Butcher outside of Mercado.
Abandoned doorframe grunge.
Street of the Three Fishes.
From my housemate’s exterior window.
This is where I live.
Butcher outside of Mercado.
Abandoned doorframe grunge.
Street of the Three Fishes.
From my housemate’s exterior window.
This is where I live.
Okay, the easy joke’s out of the way. Doro wat is one of the most popular dishes in Ethiopia, and exemplifies all aspects of the cuisine that keep me coming back to Malasaña’s own Nuria. I tend towards restaurants that fix foods I can’t make nearly as well myself, and the spreads of saucy veg, egg, and meats ladled across spongy, slightly sour injera has always been a special treat out on the town. The particular mix of spices in each dish mesh to produce flavors wholly distinct from other schools of cooking with which I am more familiar (Thai, French, Mexican, Arabic…), and I’ve somehow always categorized them as Beyond My Kitchen Expertise.
This stereotypical shot of a kaleidoscope amalgamation of spices should be a clear enough indication: no more unfounded excuses. Casu Marzu‘s inspired me again, this time with an image of scored egg submerged in tomato paste spiked with spice. I need it immediately. I spend the morning scouring the musty, earthy shops of Lavapiés for berbere, the complex Ethiopian spice mixture based primarily on heaps of ground chile. A recurring pattern of blank shopkeeper looks send me back to the original recipe, whereupon I discover that I have nearly all the recommended spices at hand. Missing are fenugreek and allspice, which gives me the ideal excuse to poke my head in a corner of Madrid that’s been on my list for well over a year.
One jaunt through southern Malasaña later, and Spicy Yuli becomes my favorite store in the city. Spices by weight! Whole and ground! Curry mixes, galangal, ground cardamom, kaffir lime leaves, Sichuan pepper! This last one I pick up for good measure, along with the afore-sought allspice and fenugreek. Upon my proclaimed affinity for the spicy, the shopkeep gifts me a tiny packet of dry harissa, which she recommends I infuse with oil and enjoy with bread and olives. Mm-hmm.
The berbere comes together as a spectacularly red mountain of powder, insidiously coating the insides of my nostrils with hot paprika more than once. From here the prep could not be simpler, and my slight modifications to the original write-up add a splash of color in a scarlet sea.
One taste destroys me. It’s hot and earthy in a way that links me to my memories of Ethiopian eats at restaurants, yet far better. Fresher, more complicated. I find myself wanting to eat enormous amounts of the tomato-onion blend, to gobble fiery, saucy eggs until I burst. I content myself with reserving leftovers, but only just.
A small warning: I found myself absurdly hyped up after munching this around 10.30 PM, utterly unable to get any shut-eye until well into the wee hours of the morning. This morning I read up on hot paprika, and, in addition to being a top-notch source of vitamin C, it appears to be a stimulant. Doro wat may be best as afternoon food, or, alternatively, as late-night rocket fuel for long lasting groovy moves.
adapted from As Warm as a July Tomato
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup berbere
1 can tomato paste
1 can whole tomatoes
1 whole small chicken, skinned, de-boned, and divided
hard boiled eggs, one per person
several healthy handfuls spinach
berbere (makes 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1/4 cup ground chili
1/4 cup hot paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Over low heat, sauteé the onion and garlic in the butter until onion turns translucent around the edges. Add in berbere and toss to coat.
2. Add tomato paste and mix well. Add can of tomatoes, dividing them with your spatula.
3. Add chicken pieces to pan plus some water until the mixture is semi-liquid; bring to a simmer and let cook about 20 minutes. Add more water along the way if mixture looks dry. You’re aiming for a thick stew-like consistency here.
4. Meanwhile, boil the eggs (one per person). Cool them under cold running water, peel, and score with a knife. Settle them in the pan and let cook with the rest for a minute.
5. Add spinach and mix. Let cook until wilted. Serve, with rice, couscous, or bread if you wish.
For some, too much is never enough: my enormous flat bulges at the seams with its ten international residents, plus their various and frequent guests, yet at the beginning of the month we collectively elect to open our couches to travelers passing through the city using the CouchSurfing website. I’ve had an account since just before I moved to Thailand, where I used it not only in terms of surfing and hosting, but also as a means to establish an ever-dynamic social base. CouchSurfers are all over the map, coming from every country and camino, sharing a passion for meeting other travelers and swapping stories.
After introducing the idea and the website to the uninitiated of the Luchana house, we collectively decide to give it a go; I use my account to filter and organize incoming requests, posting the schedule of anticipated guests on a calendar print-out in the living room. September turns out to be particularly high-traffic, owing to the frequent presence of two further guests occupying the other sofas:
1) Gio, Columbian photographer/videographer and previous resident of my very own room in the house, has just returned from months of solo travel through Spain and Portugal. He’s a Luchana institution by this point, ever the wanderer but always returning to beloved Madrid, picking up new kitchen skills in the process.
2) Max, German-American bartender/egg-eater/entrepreneur, is suddenly one of my longest-standing friends: we met six years ago living on the Earlham Wellness Hall, of all places. Philosophies have since shifted, and Max has spent the past while bartending in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He’s got his sights set on ambition, however, and I like to think I was a large part of convincing him to apply for the Madrid auxiliar program, which he’ll be beginning along with me next week (although not in the same Instituto).
Apart from couch-crashers Gio and Max, Luchana has racked up five official CouchSurfers during the month of September:
1) Viktor, Mexican currently studying Latin and Greek in Romania, inaugurates the CouchSurfing experiment the very next day; he notices my profile proclaiming me “Online Now!” and inquires as to whether he might be able to stay that same night. I waver just a moment before responding positively, deciding that getting the ball rolling immediately is the best way to keep enthusiasm high.
Viktor arrives in the afternoon and we set out for a stroll, during which he teaches me much more about Spanish history as reflected in the city statues and structures than I think I ever managed to glean from SPAN 402: Histories of Spain. He is linguist, writer, and philosopher; together we successfully complete a mission to locate blank sheets of paper, his preferred tool of the trade. Over rooftop cañas, we discuss the Meaning of Meaning, singularity vs. author vs. reader, and the above pictured Vaso de la Libertad.
Upon departure, Viktor leaves the house a lengthy letter of thanks pegged to the living room wall, complete with verbal flourishes in antiquated Spanish. He’s an ideal introduction, and has extended an invitation to visit Romania that I may just accept.
2) David, Brit touring the country by thumb, arrives shortly after my return from Berlin. He’s on the quiet side, and unfortunately we don’t end up coinciding a great deal, to the extent that I even lack a proper photo of the guy. He crashes here for a couple nights, then heads out.
3) Alessandra, Napolitan living in London for the past year, is quickly revealed to be a kindred foodie heart; we sample sardine-stuffed olives at El Mercado de San Miguel and whiskey-topped tinto de verano at La Paca. Neighborhood touring takes us further south to calle Argumosa in Lavapiés, where we talk ex-punk phases and living with mainly males. We share a lively ensalada mixta and grilled squid dinner with Max and Gio at a traditional-style Spanish spot in Malasaña.
The following evening we reconvene over a bottle of La Rioja’s best Alessandra’s thoughtfully brought to the house, and I whip up an extra-large batch of palak paneer as a spicy accompaniment. New housemate Miguel joins in the feasting, which is followed by a miniature art exhibition on the sofa consisting of of work of the present creative types. Longtime Luchanero Eugenio reveals himself to be of multiple talents.
4) Sylvain, French computer engineer brought to the city by his company, elects to extend his stay in Spain over the weekend as well. We share morcilla, pimientos de Padrón, pan de jamón y tomate, bacalao, and fried eggplant with salmorejo, along with a glass or two of cool white wine at nearby Lateral. Around 1AM, post-stuffing ourselves well beyond the point of sheer gluttony, we venture back to the piso to check out the party that’s surely happening. We enter into darkness and silence – shit! Looks like the piso’s taking the night off. However, Max arrives soon after, followed by CouchSurfer Eddie and his hosts Kaeli and Fernando, who I’ve invited to the assumed party at my place. The plan quickly shifts to checking out the Malasaña scene, and we kick it in funky Tupperware. The night wraps up with absolutely all present breaking it down on the dance floor to early 90s hip hop jams.
5) Eddie, born in Ukraine with roots in Israel and high-school experience in Boston, is currently working for CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s a major player in the get-down-stay-down that goes-down Friday night in Tupperware, and the beat refuses to go out for the count; next up is a daytrip to Toledo, in which I rediscover the best asadillo Manchego in España. Nighttime brings the much-anticipated piso party, including guest appearances by Kaeli and Fernando, and all proceed to boogie their pants off into some wee corner of the nearly-morning.
The next day brings gastronomic experimentation even for me; Eddie’s heard tell that they enjoy pig ear ’round these parts, and of course I’m game. Supercutre Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés has the porky goods, and I sample glutinous, vaguely meaty oreja for the first and last time. The pimientos de Padrón go down much easier, so much so that I’m beginning to think they may be a new obsession. Evening wanderings include an attempt to take part in a swing event that leads us instead to talking public art at La Tabacalera, then meeting up with Max for red wine plus caviar-flecked ensalada de mariscos at La Buga del Lobo.
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.
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.
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.
Today is the first day of Orientation Proper, and I, being such a health-conscious soul, decide it ought to begin with a series of heavy lifting exercises – you know, to get in a righteous, energetic mindset for the rigor of a series of meetings. However, upon inquiring as to the whereabouts of the weight room at 7 AM, I am informed that any possibility of opening it is far beyond the scope of what The Keybearers are able to consider.
“Pero… nadie hace ejercicio en las mañanas?”
“No. La mayoria hacen el footing.”
So I footed my way up and down the hilly blocks.
A cool rinse, a luscious peach, and a 2,285 euro stipend check later, I enthusiastically join the other ETAs for a welcome speech, which clearly underlines how important of a role Fulbrighters play in the transformation of the Spanish educational system towards true bilingualism. It is stifling in the sala, but the words are welcome – it turns out I am in plentiful company in terms of not being absolutely certain of what I am doing here.
As the day’s meetings progress, the information becomes more specific. All the grantees give a very brief self-introduction to the group, during which I learn that I am not the only Fulbrighter from Arizona!
Our sweaty foreheads seep in rhythm to the rumbling of our tummies. Lunchtime cannot come soon enough. Sam and Charleen and I have decided to scarf lunch, which turns out to be Fried Goo with a side of kiwi, then zip out with the goal of assembling what we need to obtain our Abono – the across-the-board transportation card that allows unlimited access to the metro, bus, and train system in the city. Getting the photocopies is a cinch; identification photos are similarly painless (although mine emerge a bit reminiscent of a UPS delivery guy turned serial killer… will have to take a photo later for evidence).
However, when we seek the Abono itself, we run into timing difficulties. La siesta! Of course! No one should ever do business during the middle of the day, when it might just seem most convenient to run errands.
We even check in a metro station, just in case, but you really need to hit up an estanco first (a.k.a. “Tabacos”) in order to obtain the holder that the Abono goes in. It’s a step-by-step process, see. Abonos are Serious Business.
So, further disheveled by the heat, we shlep back to the Colegio for our final meeting of the day, this one with returning Fulbrighters Linette and Baird. They turn out to be the most charming and informative speakers one could possibly wish for, handily addressing what seems like hundreds of queries as well as “interpreting” the theory of the morning meetings to fit what they experienced on the field.
They also fiercely recommend Lavapiés as an excellent area of town for piso-hunting, which is a huge confidence boost for me – I’d been contemplating the zone since everything I’ve read mentions incredible food, a diverse population, and loads of character alongside strange warnings advising you of vague dangers. L&B’s take is that the unfortunate overt racism in Spain works against the reputation of an area known for its immigrant population, and that they absolutely adored living there and had no issues. I haven’t dedicated myself to piso-hunting just yet, but it sounds like an excellent starting point.
Sam and I aren’t up for another round of dinner at the caf’, so we head out to finalize our Abonos in order to let ourselves loose upon the wild city. We experience a few minor tribulations the result of some extremely poor planning (hint: the estancos do not accept Baht), but eventually encounter massive success in the form of flimsy plastic holders with our unflattering photos stuck in the corner. We puff up with pride. We are now responsible adults.
The underground world can begin considering itself our oyster. Aided by Sam’s expert navigating, we skip over to Sol, the center of central Madrid, home to tourists and pickpockets and el Corte Ingles. Sam needs a phone and ends up with a sleek silver Yoigo beast.
We then hop back on the metro – you gotta love efficient mass transportation, amazing!! – to the Lavapiés stop, where we briefly wander in search of wi-fi and beer. A jazzy bar has both, and we do the caña shuffle, meeting a couple folks also there for the internet and exchanging contacts. I comment that this would never, ever go down this way in Mesa; everyone here simply feels so much more accessible. This could, however, be more of a product of internal rather than external factors. I will keep you posted.
A block down the street is burgeoning with Indian eats. We settle into an outside table at a promising one at the corner of a small plaza, and proceed to delight in food with actual flavor. My lamb vindaloo is divine after attempting to live off cafeteria food for a few days, although it turns out the Spanish “muy picante” isn’t nearly enough to satisfy my Thai-trained tastebuds (“muy muy picante” next time for sure).
On the way back to the Colegio, we note the bar we patronized the night before is overflowing with college students, even more so than yesterday. I suppose that the first day of class is over might be more of a reason to celebrate.
Because the internet signal is too weak to make it up to the rooms, plenty of folk congregate downstairs to e-mail/Facebook/Skype/blog in the hours just before sleepytime. It is all well and good until midnight…
… when they turn out all the lights, and everyone morphs from prestigious scholars to desperate screen-lit geekoids.