El albergue

El albergue

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You always learn the randomest things.....

So it’s officially over.  My study abroad program ended, and I ran away to London for a week before finally boarding the plane for home, and now I’m back at my parents’ kitchen table in central California, halfway across the globe from Madrid.  Did I enjoy myself for the three and a half months that I was in Spain?  You bet your booties I did.  I had a blast.  It was three and a half months full of food, friends, and fun, baby.  Did I learn anything at all while I was over there?  Of course!  I was taking five classes all chock-full of lectures, homework, projects, essays, and tests on top of strengthening my Spanish every day – how could I not learn with all of that?  Oh, you mean besides academics….  Well, it goes kind of without saying that every new situation brings you in contact with new things, every day teaching you a little something new.  So to end off this slew of blogs about my time in Madrid (yes, I do realize how much I tend to write haha), I thought I’d leave you all with a couple of those random little things I learned during my time in Madrid:

1.    Everything is relative – Here in California, I’m an average sized-girl with an averaged sized-foot, but in Europe, I sometimes have difficulty finding what I need because most shoes stores don’t carry anything over a size 41, which is at the lower end of my size spectrum.  (Golly gee, that makes me sound like a giant!)
2.   Learn to look at the world from a different perspective - When you put half a canned peach upside down on a white plate, the result looks remarkably like a giant egg.  (We had a nice giggle over this one night at dinner)
3.   Everyone is capable of the unexpected - You know that candy brand called Chupa Chups?  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but it has the sweetest little innocent logo that you’ve ever seen.  Well, wouldn’t you know, it was designed by the artist Dali!  Who’d a thunk someone with such crazy and dark paintings would create such a sweetly simple candy logo?
4.  Determination can overcome a lot, but even an insane amount of it isn’t able to overcome the impossible - A little lap dog will never be able to pull you around on your rollerblades, even if you’re a nine-year old boy and are whipping the leash about with all your might.  Sorry, there just isn’t motivation enough in that waving leash to get those tiny little legs to pull you even an inch.
5.   If you don’t worry about what other people think, you can do just about anything -  When you’re a white-haired old man you can go out to the park with your ancient roller skates, walkman, and capri pants and go around and around the same fountain for an hour dancing and singing at the top of your lungs and not worry about a thing; because really, who cares what the tourists about to post your antics on youtube might think?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Everybody loves the fat one

Yesterday I went out shopping for Christmas presents in Sol, where I usually tend to go to shop here in Madrid.  I know, I know, I’m not being very adventurous in this department, but it’s just so darn easy to shop here because there are a ton of stores, and most of the area immediately around the Puerta del Sol is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about dodging traffic or anything like that…well, you do still have to deal with strolling groups of shoppers who string themselves out across the greater part of the path, but they’re usually a little easier to deal with than speeding vehicles. 

So, I went to Sol for some shopping, not remembering until I got there that yesterday was the first day of a really long holiday weekend here in Spain (Día de la Constitución on Monday and Día de la Inmaculada – patron saint of the entire country – on Wednesday combine to give everyone a nice, healthy break).  Apparently, as I found out, this weekend is one of the most traveled ones in all of Spain, meaning that there were tons and tons and tons (shall I go on?) of people filling the area to the brim as they devoted themselves to the pleasure of shopping and relaxing.  The Puerta del Sol, which is really quite a large plaza, was literally teaming with bodies.  At one point, as I was coming back from the Christmas fair in the Plaza Mayor, I looked out over the crowd and could only think of one word to describe it – an ocean.  Really.  It was an ocean of humanity, heaving and tossing waves of families and friends first into one side street and then another, ebbing and flowing with the tide of folks streaming in and out of the metro and pouring in from every possible direction. 

I was trying to swim to the other side of the plaza when I came across it, a crowd of people who seemed to be watching a street performer, of which there are many in Sol, or waiting for something to start.  Naturally, I was curious to see what so many people were watching, so I glanced to the front and to the back.  Nothing.  I glanced to the left.  Nothing but more people waiting.  Then I glanced to the right and realized that this crowd was really a gigantic line twisting away from the lottery stand.  Yup, there was a giant sea snake writhing through the heart of the ocean, with its head in the lottery stand.  Never thought the lottery would be so popular here?  Well, as I found out, it isn’t normally any more so than in the states, but for Christmas there’s a special lottery drawing for El Gordo, the fat one, that everyone participates in.  And I mean everyone, eh?  It’s a sort of tradition for most, and people who never play in the lottery the rest of the year buy a ticket or two for El Gordo.  Even my host mom, who says gambling is a vice, buys a ticket for herself and one with her group of friends.  It’s a social thing, with people earnestly discussing where to buy their tickets and somehow playing the system with all their friends so that they can win together.  You can wait in a line to buy tickets from a particular lottery store for hours, literally hours, because everyone loves El Gordo.

In fact, people love El Gordo so much that the air traffic controllers all across Spain that went on strike on Friday probably only did it to recreate the jolly environment of long lines and endless waits that they have grown to associate with fond memories of the Christmas lottery.  Sure, they wanted higher pay or something silly like that too, but I’ll bet their main goal was to share the holiday spirit with the millions of people who got stuck in every single Spanish airport.  I mean, what could be more festive and joyful than getting to know the people around you who are also waiting in an endless line for hours and hours on end?  Only, I think they tried to share their love of lines a little too long, and now the whole country is a little POed that they had to wait more than two days to fly off to wherever they were going for vacation.  Come on now, folks, don’t be so harsh.  Can’t you tell they just wanted to share the love they feel for the Fat One?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

El silencio escrito

Yesterday was the inaugural day of vacation – finals over, I decided to wander around the city for a while and see a few things I hadn’t gotten around to yet.  My first stop was the Real Basilica de San Francisco, popularly known as Sang Francisco el Grande (referring both to the size of the basilica cupola, which has the fourth largest inside diameter of all Catholic edifices, and the number of Franciscan monks that used to fill the monastery upstairs).  Sadly, it was closed when I got there in the early afternoon, so I went into the dahlia garden instead.  Well, I’m assuming it was a dahlia garden, since that’s what the sign said, but the beds were nothing but tilled earth and irrigation hoses, presumably because it is already winter.  It was an absolutely lovely day though, so I installed myself on a bench in the sunshine near the end and enjoyed the scene spreading out below the rise on which the garden was situated.

The sky was that clear, crisp blue of a sunny winter day, highlighting the peaks to the north that were beginning to show their winter cap of snow and providing a brilliant background to the city skyline rising up from the River Manzanares below.  Tall office buildings were interspersed with trees, smaller shops and open spaces, creating the look of a somewhat lumpy and well-loved blanket that disappeared into the distance.  Young magnolia trees shivered in their raised planters, trying vainly to shelter the ivy that trailed about at their feet from the nippy breeze that was playfully tossing their leaves about.  A hawk suddenly swooped down from the sky and snatched a lizard from the slope below, beating its wings a little against the breeze before finally making it around the ancient brick corner of the Basilica with its prey in its grasp.  There was a sense of peace and quiet, with the murmur of city traffic softly filling the background, the occasional burst of barking in the distance, and the crunch of feet on the gravel paths as other tourists came padding through to take their requisite photos and head back out.  I tilted my face back in the sunshine, letting it combat the frosty effects of the air, and closed my eyes, savoring the moment.  True, it wasn’t the most spectacular garden or vista that I’ve met with here in Madrid, but it was a beautiful day to be out and about, to enjoy the weather and the calm of a rather barren garden. 

Some hooligans had scrawled graffiti on the planters, so I leisurely set about reading what I could see.  Most of it was the typical nonsense, but one person in a more poetical mood had etched out the phrase “silencio escrito.”  I read that, looked about me at the quiet little garden, read it again, and decided that it was the perfect phrase for where I was and the day I was having, a place and a time of silence, the type of calm that makes you wish you had an excellent piece of literature in your hands to accompany it.