Friday, February 17, 2012
Dear Spain- I like you, let's be friends.
When I first arrived in Madrid I was a lost dog, roaming around the East side of the city near the business district. I couldn't even recognize a market to buy a pack of smokes. Giant buildings with business laden logos taunted me and pushed me around. I asked a man for directions to the Plaza De Espana, which I thought was close. I wasn't close at all, not even to the St. Domingo district even after seeing a street sign for St. Domingo; in fact, I was pretty fucking far from it. The man told me to hop on the metro and stroll into town. Simple enough right? Well, maybe for someone who didn't just spend fifteen minutes trying to escape the metro station. In my defense, that station was especially tricky, and every time I followed the "Salida" sign, I would end up where I started. I'm not even sure how I eventually made it out, but I felt victorious, and then overwhelmed.
So my searched continued, looking more lost and helpless than before. I stopped on a corner to look at my "Europe on a Budget" book's map, and was instantly approached by two men. "Hey," one shouted, "do you speak English?" This was my saving grace. "Yes!" I nearly yelled. We exchanged stories. They were traveling from Morocco. Buda, a native of Morocco, was attending a heavy metal concert that night, and Josiah, who had been traveling for six months, followed Buda from Morocco. I can't explain how comforting, and how lucky I was to stumble across two other travelers, especially since they approached me. We all decided to hang out and they led me to my hostel where I checked in and dropped off my bags, and then we headed out to eat. I am in forever indebted to these two men whom made my life invariably easier that day. Thank you.
My first meal wasn't great by Spain's standards, but not bad either. I stuck to what I knew- fried chicken strips with fritas and a fried egg, served with a copa (cup of beer) and olives. They pretty much only serve one type of Cerveza on tap in Madrid, Mahou (it's pretty disgusting), and when you order a cerveza or vino, they typically serve with olives and/or tapas (blood sausage, chorizo, Jamon, chips, etc). This is something I'm not accustomed to in the states. Giving away free food is almost unheard of; a ghastly gesture. But here, in Spain, they take care of the people.
We met up with Josiah's friend Jenesa and carried on with our day. Buda ended up departing for his black metal concert. I thought it was funny that such a soft spoken and humble man named Buda was going to a Black Metal show. But in Europe, the metal heads are some of the most harmonious people on the planet. Not all, but some. After Buda left, the three of us took advantage of the free entry at the Museo De Prado. The walk through Balboa Park to the museum was beautiful, even in the rain. And once inside, we were overwhelmed by the size of the Prado.
The styles of paintings varied from 19th century Renaissance to Italian Renaissance to El Greco. Spanish artists like Velázquez and Francisco de Goya had entire rooms dedicated to their works. There were also great interpretations of the last supper, including inspiring materpieces by the well know Italian artist Botticelli ( whom I ended up seeing and appreciating more of his work at the Ufili Museum in Florence). I stumbled through most the museum like a zombie, suffering from massive sleep deprivation and jet lag. I was most impressed by Heironymus Bosch's, "The Garden of Earthly Delights." If you haven't seen this painting, look it up, it's a utopian concept with everyone feasting off the natural delicacies of the earth. It insinuates sexuality, and an ideal society where everyone is as free as they choose. That was my interpretation.
I made it safely back to the hostel and passed out. The next day I met up with my friend Cassondra, who I graduated with at Sonoma State University (holler back). We walked and talked, went to a tapas bar or two, and hugged goodbye with the sunset behind us, igniting powerful hues of red and orange. The sunsets in Madrid are some of the best I've seen. Another great thing about Madrid, and traveling in general, is that days are slow enough to enjoy. Whether it's sitting alone at a park, enjoying local graffiti or a sunset, or sitting at a bar drinking a glass of vino, things slow down, and are still always entertaining. People seem to appreciate the little things. They don't sit around and text each other, or waste their days on a laptop; they simply communicate face to face. And drinking at any time of the day is never frowned upon. The lifestyle in Madrid is a very interesting and pleasant dichotomy, it's slower and yet faster at the same.
Saturday night I took a siesta and then headed out around ten. I met a girl from the Hostel named Catalina who was traveling alone from Brazil. We went to the Plaza De Santa Anna and ate at one of the oldest tapas bars in Madrid. That night I made a breakthrough in my diet...I ordered a dish that other people were eating, having no idea what it was. When it plopped down in front of me, I hadn't realized there was calamari on it (I hardly eat seafood). It was a toasted piece of bread topped with caramelized onions, a roasted bell pepper, a round slice of goat cheese, and calamari drizzled with olive oil and Vincotto. It was fucking delicious.
We headed out and back into the strip, checking out a dance bar called Sunset. It was interesting, lots of older Spanish people dancing to eighties pop music. Entertaining as it was, we weren't nearly as drunk as everyone, so we left. Next we went to another tapas bar where we indulged in more drinks and sampled my first taste of blood sausage. It came sliced and was nearly black. The taste was bitter, like a faint bronze, and had a tint of sweetness to it. It was really good, especially with a Spanish vino Tinto.
Near the end of our second drink, a guy sat next to us and insisted on sharing his wine. His name was Cesar, from Peru. His English wasn't exceptional, but good enough to communicate. He convinced us to meet his friends at another bar. On the way, we were a little hesitant because of his demeanor. He seemed overly excited. We agreed to at least check it out, and if it was shady, we would leave. We showed up and his friends embraced us with hugs and kisses without hesitation. We danced to American rock n roll, and took shots of Jagermeister and red bull. They all ended up being bartenders at one of Madrid's most popular clubs- El Cool. Cesar gave me his number and wished me luck. The Spanish people can be very friendly and eager to befriend people of all types.
The night ended at around four in the morning as people still loitered the streets, chatting and drinking beer. Drinking in Spain is different, It's more moderate, and people don't get horribly shitfaced like they do in the states. They also have street cleaners working on a consistent basis, although the streets still smell like stale piss. Despite our early exit (yes, four am is considered going home early) the morning still sucked. I had to wake up early to check out, and was slightly hungover. I headed to Cassondra's house in La Latina, who is awesome and welcomed me with open arms. We enjoyed a nice walk up and down the Rastro and enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day. The Rastro is a traditional flea market that they hold every Sunday. It starts on top of hill, the Plaza De Cascorro, and you decline down the street. The market spills onto other surrounding streets as antique shops and food markets open their doors for the large crowd. Vendors sell everything from purses to belt buckles, homemade accessories and imported goods from Morocco. You can get imposter designer clothing for cheap, while others sell old items and heirlooms from their homes. The Rastro means "The trail," and the story goes that when the Spaniards would slaughter and transport cattle, the blood would run through the streets.
Later that night we met up with her friend Cady and hopped around a couple of tapas bars, including a mushroom cave where I ate sauteed mushrooms and spiced peppers. On the walls, which were rocky and curved, were painted mushrooms. Most the buildings and businesses in Spain have been slightly renovated, but they manage to preserve the old architecture, renovating it just enough to conduct a safe business. That night we drank some more and headed back to Cassondra's after stopping at another bar where I had the best burger in Spain (was topped with a fried egg). We spent the rest of our night on her balcony, catching up on old times, and watching drunken people mingle and stammer around, soiling the streets with urine and beer.