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. American’s 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 duny 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 cheesesteaks, 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.
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 immigrants 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. 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, God’s most fucking inglorious food.
Everyone can do what they want, just be direct, that is the only salvation. And that frees 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 all I want is a clear conscience.
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 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 flaccid 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 a trooper today and I’m waiting for my hair to dry you lucky darlings ). And truth be told the last few weeks have spanned the entire emotional spectrum and really played on my tentative sanity (ever precarious in the best of times).
On the one hand I really love Madrid, it grows on me more and more everyday. It’s not that impressive of a place for a tourist; the monuments are relatively few and unless you like salted meats, the food is just aight . 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 love life and personality clash with the Spanish as a people . And CHRIST ALMIGHTY siesta is killing me, it does not gel with the way I organize my life on the most basic level.
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 well this whole affair is going format-wise, nor have I cared to proofread, and for that I am a little bit sorry, but not that much cos this is hard and menial work
Love each and every one of you xx
I’ve been gone man, out in the world handling business left, right and center. I haven’t been able to keep up with this thing do in equal parts to my pwning the Spanish immigration gauntlet and some distressing love life issues (which I also handled with panache and runny eyeliner). But I’m back with all the necessary updates of the past several weeks in very brief and convenient numbered points:
1) All the visa hoop-jumping is completed, except for the actual visa, but compared to all the prep work, that should be ez pz (and I even managed a decent-ish passport photo, so I’m gonna ride that high for quite awhile).
2) I got my work placement, and it will be around a 40 minute commuter train ride’s away from the city center, where I will
3) Teach kindergarten!
Ok now I’ll elaborate and spin some yarns about these exciting events. So the visa stuff has been a real handful, I’ve had to make ever so many phone calls, which is something I’ve hated doing since I was a small child: the phone is scary and people on the phone are never helpful because there is no physical presence to hold them accountable to give correct information. They are arbiters of knowledge just floating in the ether, waiting to make my life more challenging. And my phone voice is weird. But everything has been handled, all steps being completed yesterday upon my super-dodgy cash-up-front medical exam (NO, a drug test isn’t necessary, that is outside your purview doc) so now I only have to worry about having my visa rejected due to some bureaucratic abnormality (Spain’s bureaucracy is already so much worse than France’s, hadn’t thought that was possible, seems ominous).
My placement has put me in a village (I guess pueblo is the preferred nomenclature) 40 minutes north of Madrid at a school that is easily accessible by metro and commuter train. This extra time will be convenient for doing lesson planning, which I always did in the morning anyway, letting a few buckets of coffee inspire me. I am still going to live in the city center because I’ve paid my dues with village life, they can’t make me do it again I NEED PUBLIC TRANSPORT AND KEBABERIES OPEN PASSED 10pm. Those aren’t crazy requirements, I just want to be treated with a little humanity. I also want to live with some hip young Madrileños, but that is for another post; the apartment search will produce tons of blog fodder, so stay tuned for that debacle.
Finally, a return to glue-eating and fart accusations in the realm of the very tiny people who will be learning some west coast American English under my careful and exuberant guidance. The good news is kindergarteners love me because I’m female and dress decently, and that seems to be the only rubric needed to be named a “beautiful princess” and I am so down to be called a beautiful princess in my day to day. I also have an expressive face and tend towards slapstick, which probably makes me not unlike a birthday clown. I am also vaguely cool because I wear a lot of black (and sometimes a metal tank or two) and coolness gives one universal cultural capital, so in this way I get a simulacrum of respect from a bevy of 5-year olds (to recap, I am a beautiful princess goth-clown, and the kids dig it).
I’m actually not terribly worried about my wardrobe. The biggest problem will be crouching down in too-tight pants over and over again throughout the day, but currently I dig through barrels of mothballed vintage in these very same bondage pants, and haven’t suffered a stroke, so it should be fine.