Another idol on my road to becoming a tough leathery sexually-charged mature Spanish woman.
The air is hot this time of year in this part of Spain. It feels baked. The doors and windows of all the tabernas and cafes and restaurants are open to the night and people fill all the space on either side and in between. The music of shouting voices and eighties Spanish ballads are thick on the air and stick to it. The night smells like dust and piss and cigarettes.
I walk through hedgerows of people drinking and smoking out to the edge of the street. I slide along the outside, slick. There’s a bar around here that gives glasses of wine and some decent if not bottom-shelf ham for a euro. I have no particular destination but I feel a ghostly pull at my elbow when I pass the place.
I came back to Madrid to find meaning as if it were some ephemeral thing floating out there, wild and thrashing, what a reward to hook the beautiful damn thing. I’ve read in good books that that’s not the way it works but what the hell does anybody know. I mean really. The world is full of this kind of mystic junk to find and I’m covering a lot of ground. That’s the only reason I go anywhere. Sometimes we turn so far inward that it’s hard to tell if we’re more neuroses than person. I narrowly miss getting taken out by a Renault full of teens in the cross walk.
Farther up the street are middle-aged immigrants selling Spanish beer from trolleys they hide in the trash, waiting on corners splitting the tide of street revelry like rocks in a stream. They profit from the crisis because everyone’s too broke to get bar drunk, or don’t see the point. The white noise is deafening, the plazas are all full, the sidewalks are full. In the narrow streets and alleys the cars try to push through it all and somewhere in that throng is an Argentine kid with a guitar and a guy with dreads and rhythm sticks. Correction: single dread.
This is the kind of night that feels heavy, like nothing is in your control. That’s not the night and it’s not Spain and maybe you’re going to bring your problems with you or maybe there’s nothing to figure out.
People care about you and they understand.
Everyone’s drunk and everyone’s smiling and everyone wants me to venga tomar algo. Americans don’t like to be touched they tell me, patting my back and handing me a cup of red wine and coke zero. San Francisco’s beautiful, it’s their dream to go there. Someone has some hash.
A municipal police car rolls up across the plaza. In one big choreographed movement everyone throws their cans/cups/bottles (but not the hash) and runs.
There’s always chanting coming from somewhere. We have a new king, and flags of the Spanish Republic in Exile add dark marks of color up and down the dunny streets that run past the four large open windows; Ni rey, Ni reina. The same breeze that ripples their dissenting reds, yellows and purples slides along the sticky table, fluttering last night’s rolling papers across the un-mopped floor, where they stick to something horrible that I stepped in this morning. All the glasses are full of cigarette butts and warm gin. We’ve had about eight going away soirees and if I have to break up any more coke parties in the bathroom to brush my teeth, I’m going to renounce my residency.
I haven’t written for days because I’m not a writer, and my thoughts are manic and punctuated by drunken outbursts and ill-begotten lusty messages (mistakes in Spanish grammar take the bite out of both). The apartment has smelled of heat and cigarettes for days, and suitcases in various states of packing represent the disparate plans and departure dates of the three of us who live here: San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg.
At this point my eyes are dull and I need a drink. From one of the small balconies I can see into the closest old-man bar (the only variety worth a damn). Someone’s at the gambling machine and the barman is waltzing alone in the street spilling a glass of the light vermouth for which this place is famous. The sun isn’t going down but my worthless phone is stuck on Icelandic time, and doing the math I determine it is indeed not too early to indulge. It’s been a day that calls for drinking, for godsake.
I leave the spite email I’d been impassively drafting, a response to one I’d gotten hours before bearing ill news about the disintegrating San Francisco life I’d abandoned to its fate nine months ago. Both my best friends are banging my ex and fighting about it STOP Everyone is depressed STOP Bad sex and Jameson are the new religion STOP. I’ll be back there in three weeks and all I can think about are cheese steaks, large coffees, and punching my ex in the dick. I managed to relate this desire to my roommate in French and feel that fact alone moves me up to a level C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
I grab a general amount of currency and head downstairs.
The legions of day-drinkers draped across public spaces and plazas add an urgency to these last few days. I stop to check my broken phone at the corner where I traditionally catch some rogue wifi. At this hour post-siesta there’s no hope in rousing the other “expats” from their youtube hangovers, and frankly this drink needed to be drunk alone. Furthermore there’s no response to the flurry of weirdly-phrased Spanish come-ons I fired off to a couple of second-stringers late last night, because I have a misplaced need for affection at that hour. That’s certainly for the best, though that boldness will haunt me in the cold light of day when I cross them at the grocery store whilst buying spreadable cheese and diet coke.
I stand at the bar surrounded by old men shouting “venga coño” at various members of the Spanish National soccer team featured on the tv-vcr combo perched in the top corner. This is where I pick up most of my functional vocabulary. Once the bartender comes in from dancing, shirt glistening and thirst unquenched, I order a tall glass of the same vermouth that his mirth advertized, and reflect on the decisions I’ve made.
I have an aversion to success and am debilitatingly self-reflective, it’s true. That needs to be taken into account. But goddamnit, I don’t understand the world anymore. Spain has certainly put that into perspective. Everything around me has disintegrated into mayhem, and that is oddly freeing.
Spain just scored a goal and someone’s abuelo is buying the bar a round of tiny beers.
I’ve learned to accept that seeking catharsis in mutual understanding is a fool’s errand and not the point. We’re emotionally developed enough to render rational thought not only inconvenient but impractical; contradiction is no impediment.
The barman gives me mushrooms as a free tapas, God’s most fucking inglorious food.
Everyone can do what they want, just be direct, that is the only salvation. And that helps free everyone from the burden of frustration.
And then I would have more time to drink vermouth.
I’ll be gone for nearly three months and maybe nothing will change here just as, disappointingly, nothing has changed back home. People will still struggle, and drink in the streets and yell and scream all night because of it. And I’ll make bad decisions and I’ll forgive unforgivable things, but then maybe that’s a clear sign I’ve got too much free time.
*There aren’t really a lot of photos that are apropos to this post, so I’ll intersperse my diatribe with paintings I did of my (rock and roll) spirit-guides.
I had a rough weekend. After having a veritable army of 3rd graders practically cough into my mouth all month I got a gnarly stomach flu that laid me out for nearly a week. Now I imagine I know what it’s like to contract dysentery; I had the lower intestine of a pioneer. It was like I was on the goddamned Oregon Trail.
And in my sweat-soaked, bloated, fever-induced delirium I got a bit existential. I began to reflect on my present situation which had slowly become more and more unbearable, and that’s besides the nearly shitting myself to death.
If I have one major fault (I have a litany actually, which is part and parcel to my charm, but if one could be considered the most glaring) it is the fact that I can be passive to a fault, not exercising my agency more than pure altruism and politesse require, and that harshes my mellow something fierce (you can tell I have a liberal arts degree). To put it briefly I can be a wimp when dealing with particularly strong or willful personalities, which by their nature constantly attempt to exert their will over mine (Nietzsche would be unimpressed). Until of course, I reach a certain point and lose it over some triviality and bite someone’s head off for arguing with me over what constitutes one serving of fruit on the food pyramid (anecdotal). I’m a nice guy and I like to keep my shit copacetic, to the point that my will begins to suffer. I can be inconvenienced and handle a fair amount of BS with aplomb, until I become a pariah, banishing myself into some self-imposed bummer city.
Well, anyway that all sounds like some remedial psychological diagnosis from a freshmen who’s just read some Freud, but there, I’ve bared my soul. I look tough, but I can be fragile, you know? I need to take lessons on what it is to be a post-enlightenment liberal individual or I’m going to continue to keep getting increasingly weird and “offbeat” (euphemism) as I get older (the trend has clearly already started).
So, wouldn’t you know it, I saw one of these situations creeping up on me since my time here in Madrid. Forces were acting upon me, shaping my experiences in a negative way, and I was just floating down that noxious river, counting it all part of a “character-building exercise (I have character aplenty by now). But enough is too much; I had made a goal for this year.
Actually I can remember the exact moment: it was summer and I was in the back seat of my friend Ben’s newly-acquired Volvo station wagon, driving north on the 101 towards Marin County, just on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge. There is a tunnel there, whose mouth is outlined in a rainbow, and when we passed through its arch I held my breath and wished for the strength to be able to focus on myself for the next year, to act as an individual unit of energy and potential actively driving on my own trajectory.
The whole point of all of this travel is about 35% frolic and jaunt, and 65% putting myself through the emotional ringer so that I can self-actualize into the tough broad of the 21st century that is my innate self before the anomie of the modern condition threw a wrench into my cogs.
And even if it isn’t easy or natural (and it isn’t because I enjoy confrontation about as much as I enjoy a poke in the eye with a sharp stick) by merely enacting an ethic or behavior one begins to internalize and eventually incorporate it into their natural habits. In other words, keep acting like an alpha female and you shall become one. Now all I need to do is get filthy rich and I’m set.
Got empadronado today which means I’m on the grid (so no more peeing in the street and pretending I don’t speak Spanish) ! Also as I’ve been harping on to my friends for the past 3 weeks now, my laptop is broken which is just about the fucking tragedy of the century, so I’ve been effectively unable to post anything of substance because my phone’s LG keyboard is a joke.
Most people back home (and in general) keep asking me if I’m “okay”, how I’m doing “out there”, with emoticons full of concern and weak encouragement. That’s likely based on the cryptic and sour one – liners that keep showing up on my various social media (one line is all I have the patience for on this damn keyboard , but I’m currently waiting for my hair to dry you lucky darlings ).
On the one hand I really love Madrid, it grows on me more and more everyday. Maybe it’s not that impressive of a place for a tourist; the monuments are relatively few and unless you like salted meats, the food may not be able to compete with other major Spanish cities. But the vie quotidien, the art and music, the people, the shops, cafés and bars are phenomenal.
On the other hand my homesickness has been off the charts for the past month, which is a new phenomenon for me, and is likely due to my slash and burn SF love life and a personality clash with many Spanish men my age (at least the ones on Tinder). And I still haven’t managed to get in sync with siesta, which is crucial to the Spanish way of life. Currently doing all of the late hours and none of the catch-up.
But I’m optimistic. The teaching thing is going swimmingly, the kids are adorable and somewhat engaged, and I’ve made a solid lady crew this side of the Atlantic (the she – wolf pack is ever – growing). And my Spanish isn’t getting any WORSE , so that’s something to cling to (I have managed to open a bank account, empadronar myself, and kick 3 separate wandering basque guys out of my room during a raging house party, all in Spanish!)
Ok, I am missing at least one full night of sleep due to said house party so I’m hitting the hay. Because this is all on my phone I have no idea how this is all going format-wise, nor have I cared to proofread, and for that I am a little bit sorry.
Love each and every one of you xx