Tres Peces, Cinco Botellas

17 01 2012

Moved house. New year, new piso, new pisomates.

Same wine. Same weeknight dinner parties, different guest list.

Same croquetas. Croquetas is as croquetas does.

New deck, new dealer, new hand, new trump suit. New animal noises, fresh giggles, old bottles. Emerging hoots, ebullient hollers.

Far from the same old song and dance.


((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.

[{.”—SPACE PARTY—“.}]

8 02 2011

think glittery deely-boppers
think slinky golden leggings
think extraterrestrial
think neon supernova
think aluminum foil
think mad false eyelashes
think [[[out-of-this-world]]]

Me, Sam, Emily, Leah at David Bowie-inspired SPACE PARTY in my piso last weekend.

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.

Couchsurfing El Grito Fiesta

17 09 2010

I awake from my siesta – I don’t think I will ever stop deriving enormous pleasure from spending 6-7:30 PM deep in dreamland – to find the piso transformed.

I’m far from a good Hippiehamite; it never occurs to me to decorate with a few candles. The soft flicker they cast on the kitchen is is gorgeous, though, and a marvelous way to ease towards full wakefulness.

I tell Fausto I love them, and he proceeds to get quite bashful (“ah lo que pasa es que no suelo usarlas, que no son nada, asegurate que las apagas cuando salgas,” etcetera etcetera). They’re so classy-grunge. I love my stylin’ piso.

Tonight I’ve done my research on the Couchsurfing Madrid message boards; there is a fiesta going down tonight in La Latina in celebration of El Grito, Mexican Independence Day! I’ve told Alice about it, and then Emily, and then Sam and Leah and Charleen, and then Jaselyn, and soon enough there is a whole troop of Fulbright ladies hankering for a Mexi-style get-down. I explain what Couchsurfing is, but I get the sense that it’s tricky to understand the vibe of it without experiencing an event for yourself – so plunging ahead blindly it is. Fingers crossed that the Madrid group is as warmly inclusive as the Bangkok bunch.

We convene in La Latina, bustling tapas-central of Madrid (still need to do this! weekend plans, anyone?), and head down Calle Cava Baja towards the deceptively named Chez LouLou, which turns out to be an itty-bitty bar/restaurant completely overflowing with chatty revelers. I approach decisively, stowing my trepidation and boldly introducing myself and my compatriots to some eccentric-looking tall man with a frizzy afro.

A beat passes – then – “Eres de Couchsurfing?”
“Uh. Me investigaste?”

I guess I invited it when I posted on the event listing that I was going to arrive with a plenitude of amigas. Oh Couchsurfing, always toying with that fun little line between informative and creeptastic.

Luckily for all involved, no one else attending is quite THAT well-versed in who I am, although there are a handful of others who recognize my face from the board (“Eres la con las gafas!!“). The atmosphere is totally bumpin’, both in terms of energy and running into other bodies attempting to occupy the same sweaty space, and I quickly move outside with my cool Coronita.

Couchsurfing events are unlike any others I’ve ever experienced; everyone is looking to meet you but (normally) sans flirtatious overtones. There’s a general appreciation of working together to have the best time possible, rather than each-man-for-himself, and just about everyone wants to know your story. Plus, because we’re all connected on this network of references, anyone who makes a bit of a cabron@ out of him/herself is then subject to nothing but the truth the following morning.

As a group of seven attractive chicas (Sam’s brought along a British newbie to Madrid), we are quickly invited out for drinks/dancing following the fiesta. None of us has anything slated for the morrow, so we accept and march our way towards the center.

It is ladies’ night at Dreams, which means the mere presence of your twin mammary glands nets you a free drink every fifteen minutes. None of us go quite that hog wild, but the emphatic booty-shakin’ definitely revs up as the night wears on. Interestingly, the tradition here seems to be that the men dance in front of the womenfolk, showing off their finest groovy maneuvers. For the most part, everyone cycles around the group, trying out different style combinations to the familiar American beats (“heyy! must be the monayy!“).

We duck out around 2:30 AM or so, quite early by Spain standards, but it feels sufficient tonight. The metro’s closed by now, but the 20-minute walk back to Calle de Las Delicias isn’t so bad – although Em and I are certainly enthusiastic about kicking off our heels once happily back in the piso.

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.

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.