Saturday, January 3

And we're back!

Oh me, Oh my... how quickly time has flown by. And I have no record of the last three months! I've left you all in the dark and for that I'm terribly sorry. This time I'll blame it on the dismal internet connection we have in our apartment (actually we're not paying for it but rather mooching off our neighbor, known to us simply as 3Com).

So, I've got a lot to talk about. Let's start with the facts and the, more often than not, positive changes to my life here in Madrid. I've changed apartments and with that gained new roommates. Last year, I was living in the center of the city (M: Bilbao) with an amusing American fellow named Keith. I was paying 460euros/month for a small apartment (though I had the big room) and a shower that only provided 7 minutes of hot water in 2 hour intervals. This year, I'd say the situation has improved. I'm living on the outskirts of Madrid-20 minutes from the center-in a big four bedroom apartment (ideal for parties) paying an astonishing 280euros/month. My roommates are all native Spanish-speakers, 2 Spanish girls and 1 Uruguayan. This makes for a perfect learning environment. Unlike last year, I am now constantly speaking Spanish at home, I love it. I've even come to enjoy some Spanish TV shows which I never paid attention to last year. My roommates are all very sweet and friendly and we have the perfect relationship, friendly with each other at home but feel no need to go out together, we all respect the fact that we have our own lives outside of the apartment.

I've also changed jobs. I'm no longer on a grant working for the Ministry of Education at a bilingual public school, one year was enough. Spending my days as a teacher's assistant in a classroom with 25 1st-3rd graders at once was quite stressful and frankly I didn't find the job very challenging or rewarding. The kids were all sweet and cute and were a blast to play with and chat to at recess but in the classroom, I had to play babysitter and talk over children and beg for their attention. Honestly I think Spanish children are more unruly and undisciplined than American children. As a child, I remember respecting the teacher... when she starts counting to three, you sit down and shut up. That's not the case here, they just don't seem to respect the teacher. Everyday in the lunchroom, the teachers would all complain about their disruptive students and about the throbbing headaches they'd inflicted. When the bell rang to signal the end of recess, the teachers would all head back with sighs and dread clearly marked on their haggard faces. I don't miss that. Now I'm teaching at a language academy that sends me to companies and private homes to teach English. My students are pretty diverse, half are adults, half are kids under 18. I teach at two companies, Loewe (Spain's most famous luxury fashion brand) and Banco Espirito Santo (a Portuguese-owned investment firm). Company classes are the best, you get to teach a group of adults on their lunch break who are good-humored and eager to learn. My least favorite students are those who are preparing for the Cambridge exams, the expectations are really high, and if they don't study or practice, they won't progress very much. An English teacher can't work magic, the student's really got to want to improve. The big downside to my job this year is that I don't have a classroom or office, rather I have to run around the city to reach my students and sometimes the distance between them is pretty great. Twice a week, for example, I have to go to Getafe, which takes an hour to reach from my apartment, they augment the pay, however, when a job is far away so at least I'm compensated.

Fortunately, most all of my friends have stuck around for a second year also so in that respect, little has changed. I still spend my free time going to the Filmoteca and Circulo de Bellas Artes to catch classic, cult and arthouse films. Last night I saw The Birds and tonight they're showing 2001 which I've never seen before. I try to go to museums when there is an interesting temporary exhibit and am always curious to explore new bars and restaurants, I'm proud to say that I've got a pretty extensive list going of my favorites. I keep saying I'm gonna start a blog reviewing these restaurants but it still hasn't happened, I have enough trouble keeping up with this one. I like to cook and have friends over for dinner and I'm still seeing Enrique (non-exclusively) who helps me feel connected with the people and culture here.

So those are the facts, not bad, huh?

Gimme a couple days and I'll post about the highlights of the last few months.

Friday, September 12

Summer 2008 Update

So, since I haven't been in Madrid since mid-July, I figured I didn't have to add any entries either. And hey, it's my damn blog, I'm not gonna write if I'm not feeling it... and I haven't been feeling it. "So where have you been?" you might ask. Well, I've been hanging out with my folks in San Diego, and doing a lot of nothing. That of course is my own decision... I could be kayaking or surfing or cliff jumping but no, I'm not that motivated. It has been quite relaxing though, but two months of relaxing turns into extreme boredom. I've discovered I no longer have friends living in my hometown. Let me run down the list: Elise--living in London, getting her Ph.D. in English, Julie--living in Philadephia, getting her second Masters in Architecture, Stephanie--living in Fort Worth with her serious boyfriend (soon to be fiance I suspect) and her teaching career underway, Brittany--living in Philadephia having just completed her Masters in Sociology. I guess that's what happens when you've got smart friends. They travel around to get their education and then settle down where they've made mature friendships. What's a high school friendship worth nowadays anyway? Everyone makes giant steps in their character development in college, I for one am nothing like who I was in high school, that girl is a stranger to me. So what I'm trying to say is, the only reason I come home anymore is to see my family.

So, now my two month vacation is coming to a close and as you can probably guess, I'm rather glad. I'm ready to get back to work, to return to a life where public transportation is affordable and well-connected, where I can spend the day exploring new neighborhoods on foot and run into friends in the park, grab a cheap meal in Lavapies, bar hop with some buddies in Malasaña, and catch some live blues in a smokey basement bar. You just can't do that in San Diego. So it's a trade off, sun, beach and mom's cooking or a beautiful European capital city with all the fixings.

I'll tell you what I AM gonna miss about being home. Having free and full access to my father's ample magazine subscriptions (not to mention HBO), eating freshly laid eggs every morning, law and order marathons, jacuzzing, mama's cooking, watching in-depth election coverage, hanging out with my sisters and, of course, affordable sushi.

Ya know, in retrospect it wasn't all bad, I think I just stayed too long. I took a few pictures while home so I thought I'd share with you some of the highlights of my vacation (aside from traveling to Vegas and Oregon, I've spent most my days by the pool with a book or just drivin around):

We found this arguably cute English Bulldog in the middle of the street a few blocks from our house. Rachel insisted we bring him home and so we did. This creature spent the day waddling and wheezing through our halls until the next morning we found the owners posting every lamppost in our neighborhood with his picture. His real name is Stewie.

After my first week here, my parents, Chell and I went up to Oregon to meet the family of my sister's fiancé, Tim. They live in the northernmost part of Oregon, right on the Umpqua river and just a 20 minute drive from the ocean. During our stay we stuffed our faces with freshly caught seafood like crab, tuna and oysters. We had an absolute feast every night. Their lovely home is surrounded by blackberry bushes, a delicious treat we would snack on all day in between swimming in the beautiful river and reading our books on the porch. The Umpqua has very pronounced high and low tides, and so during high tide we would dive in the river and swim deep down to the river bottom while during low tide we would ride down the so called river chutes which carried us downstream. It made for the perfect vacation. Fortunately my parents and Tim's parents got along famously. It seems the two lovebirds will wed sometime next summer. It's all very exciting, Tim is a great guy and will make a wonderful addition to our family.

A few days after returning to San Diego, Chell and I drove up to Las Vegas, a five hour trip made enjoyable thanks to Chell's impressive ipod collection and, of course, his own charming company. We made reservations at the Luxor and spent the following two days exploring all the amusing hotels on the strip. We tried going to a club but soon realized it wasn't really our scene... too much cologne and girls with tramp stamps. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time throwing our money around and eating far more than we should have at the world famous Vegas buffet's. By the trips end, Chell had mastered the game of roulette and I had played in two texas hold'em tournaments, obviously not winning either, but having a lot of fun. I don't think we paid for a single drink while we were there since they'll bring out free drinks as long as you're playing their slots or tables. All and all, I recommend you take your friend or lover to Vegas and go wild... you're sure to have a good time!! (just be aware of your cashflow)

Tuesday, June 3

Rock Band

Katka got the PS2 Rock Band game complete with guitar, bass, drums and microphone. We jammed out loads of songs at her place. As you can see I look mesmerized, the truth is if you take your eyes off the screen for a second you lose your place.

Is it just me or do I look a little Garth-like in this pic?

Sunday, May 4

Picnic at Retiro

Photos from the last sunny saturday that warranted a trip to the park. I made pasta salad and a strawberry-balsamic vinegar-goat cheese concoction. It was all really yummy but I forgot to bring plastic spoons so it made it really difficult to eat all this non-finger food food. We found some ice cream stands that had little baby ice cream spoons, that was the best we could do and we managed. We sat by the bongo drummers and took in the sun on the steps. I got pooped on by a bird, everyone was telling me that it was good luck and for a minute I was thinking of buying a lottery ticket, but then I remembered I just got shit on which is anything but lucky.

Nude Beach and Sushi

Finally to finish the chapter on Barcelona. The day after the concert, Laura and I woke up late and strolled through Las Ramblas, the Central Market and just took it real easy, avoiding any tourist spots (apart from the two I just mentioned, of course). We had a great lunch at a little Italian place and walked into and quickly out of a number of upscale shops, full of beautiful things our meager allowances don't allow us to enjoy.

While exploring, I was struck by how little Spanish was written and spoken in Barcelona. It's so very different from Madrid, the home of the Monarchy, it feels like a different place all together, not the Spain I've come to know. It wasn't just the beach that was different, it was the people, the culture and the lack of all things Spanish... it was it's own thing, no bullfights, no Spanish flags, no photos of Rey Carlos and Reina Sofia like you see in many shops and bars in Madrid.... muy curioso. There is a real distaste for the Spanish language, Catalan is used everywhere. Laura said she hasn't improved her Spanish as much as she would like for that very reason, people aren't inclined to speak Spanish, they've embraced their own dialect. It is a very isolated culture and language that, like many other regions in Spain, tries to distance itself as much as possible from the capital where the monarchy dwells.

That night we hit the bars with some of her friends, all great people. There is a different breed of bars and restaurants in Barcelona, they're all so inspired and original. Some are kitschy, some sullen, others bright and colorful... there's a wide variety.

So, on to the reason why this entry is titled what it is. I made it a point to spend at least one day at the beach. That day turned out to be Sunday. Laura and I picked up some bikes at a "bicing" bike stand near her house. Bicing is a public transport service that Barcelona residents pay about 20euro/year to use. These bikes are not meant for leisure but rather for getting from point A to point B, you can therefore only rent them for a couple hours at a time. Introduced just over a year ago, it has become an extremely popular mode of transport, they are making streets more bici friendly and adding stands all over the city... the good weather and flat landscape doesn't hurt either.

So, Laura and I mounted our bici's and rode a couple miles along the boardwalk in search of the perfect beach. The nudey and appartently gay beach was the most tranquilo of them all. It was a really sunny afternoon and we just layed out with magazines and met some of her friends, spending the afternoon counting and comparing weiners. A pretty unusual day.

We returned home after a few hours and cleaned ourselves up for dinner, then we met up with a couple friends of hers to eat at a Japanese buffet restaurant and hopefully have a bit of sushi, something I still hadn't tried in Madrid. Now when you hear the words "Japanese buffet" you don't exactly think quality, at least I don't, but is was far from what I expected. The tables of the restaurant are placed alongside a conveyorbelt that transports little tapa-sized plates of food... from sushi to wontons, seared mushrooms to shortribs. F-ing delicious!! We got there right when they turned on the belt and started plating the food so everything was hot and fresh. Quite a find. I have to do some research in Madrid for a similar restaurant.

It was seriously the perfect vacations. Thanks Laura!!

Good times with Laura and Nick Cave

Barcelona's harbor, just blocks away from Laura's apartment.

On Friday, April 25th I cancelled a day of work, which I made up the week before, so that I could catch a flight to Barcelona. The whole purpose of this trip was to see Nick Cave, my rather old Adonis and a great artist. I only got into his music a few years ago, and was overjoyed to hear that he was playing in concert in Spain to promote his new record, Dig, Lazarus, Dig! I bought two tickets at FNAC the moment I got wind of the concert in Barcelona, remembering that I have a friend living there. I got to Barcelona and Laura, that friend, picked me up and we caught up during hours of walking around the city and getting dinner. I could tell right away that we would get along fine. We got dressed for the concert around 8 and headed out with high expectations. The only downside to this show was that the original venue, a small and renowned club called Razzmatazz, had been changed to an arena sized venue on the outskirts of the city. The line to get in was so long, they must have sold three times as many tickets by changing venues. The beer line was completely out of control, we didn't even get a drink the whole time we were inside, it just wasn't worth it. On the floor, Laura and I met up with some of her friends who had also gotten tickets to the concert, they were all really cool.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, now a group of men in their mid-fifties, played some fantastic tunes not just from the new album, but lots of fan favorites too and even some lesser known greats.

Tuesday, April 22

Naked vegans and racist latinos

Interesting night. My favorite pair of roommates, Jorge, a mexican musician, and John, my dear Scottish friend, invited me and some others to "a vegan dinner for 3 euros". Since it's getting near the end of the month and my budget is tight, I figured it would be a fun and cheap way to spend my Saturday night. We all met at my place and then left together for the Southern part of the city. We maze through the streets and finally arrive at the right address but it's neither a house nor a business... it's just an abandoned building still wet with graffiti. We ring the bell and a man clutching a cat opens the door and lets us in, not asking who we were or who we knew. We walk into the empty building, complete with cement floors, and see some anti-capitalist fliers and a bunch of plastic chairs laid about, there are some stairs on the left that lead us down to where Jorge and his friends are sitting. We all kiss and greet and then open the bottles of wine we brought so that our social juices start flowing.
Everyone is pretty young, between 19 and 25, I'd say. After a little while of chatting, we decide to take a walk around the block while a nude musician prepares to take the stage at the squat. We return right in time to catch him begin his first set. He's butt naked, his willy hanging out for us all to see, and he's welcomed to the stage with whistles and applause. Not a handsome man by any means, just a regular guy. He sits in the spotlight with his guitar and pulls out a small notebook he lays on his left knee. He's clearly a bit nervous, though I doubt this is his first performance of this kind. He's terrible, he's really just shouting and banging the strings... a real mess. There are more people here, probably about thirty. I'm rather surprised, either the vegan food must be really good or the second act has got to be one hell of a talent... or a naked chic or something.
We're hanging out by the "kitchen" while they're putting out the food. There is no stove, but only a fridge and a bunch of pots and pans and tuperware covered in aluminum foil. We pay our three euros each and get a little ticket that we present to the man behind the counter preparing the food. The first course is salad in a plastic cup with nutty croutons in it. Every bit of it was surprisingly delcious, the dressing reminded me of Oscar's (San Diegans know what I'm talking about) and there was even avocado in it. A far cry from the kinds of salad you'll find in a typical Spanish restaurant. Next up, there is a squash and pumpkin mush concoction... again, fucking tasty, even though it looks like baby food. I see the desert is a chocolate cake, but I'm not ready for it yet, I want more of this exciting yet simple food to fill my stomach. I pay a euro more to get a garbanzo bean and lemon bocadillo, which is essentially hummus with freshly-squeezed lemon juice on a baguette. Satisfying and filling. On to the desert, a chocolate cake drizzled with rasberry sauce on a paper plate. If it had a nicer presentation, this food could certainly have been served at a legitimate restaurant. We finish off the bottles of wine and as a new "talent" takes the stage we decide to leave.
John takes us to a house party thrown by a secretary he works with. She's latina and so are all the people at the party minus us. The music is wonderfully regaton. We drop off the booze at the snack table... the apartment is nice, clean, spacious, it's got blue and white streamers all around. We wonder if this is actually a birthday party. I chat with my co-worker Katka a bit on the couch, I haven't spent much time with her outside of work but I really like her, she's easygoing and on the level. Then once I've had enough to drink, Robin convinces me to take the dance floor with him... not long after, our Anglo party of six is told to leave... I didn't think until now that I may have prompted that request by "workin it" on the dancefloor with a Scottish guy in front of a bunch of salsa dancing latinos. hmmmm. Anyway, we left the party and John was especially pissed. I don't remember a whole lot after that. After getting on the metro to head home, I rested my head on Richard's shoulder and since I couldn't manage walking home on my own, Katka and Richard helped me to Katka's place where some of us crashed for the night. I remember not even being able to sit on the toilet to pee without my head spinning and my body swaying. Once I got to bed though, I was out like a light and woke up feeling better than I expected.
Richard later discovered that his wallet was stolen that night in the metro, he canceled all his credit cards and lost about 10 euros in cash. Sucks. Still haven't had to go through that nightmare yet... knock on wood.

One of the the more interesting nights I've had these past few weeks.

Monday, April 14

Escape to Rome!

A few weeks ago, Enrique told me he had planned a weekend trip for us. He planned to keep the destination a secret 'til the end, but he agreed to answer one question a day since I was desperate for some hints. I had to plan my questions carefully, since I could only ask one, sometime two if he felt generous, each day. Question 1: Do I need to bring my bathingsuit? No. (So it can't be Andalucia which I had thought it might be) Question 2: Is it in Spain? No. (ooh-la, la.... getting excited) Question 3: Is it a capital city? Yes. (But which?) Question 4: Have you ever been there before? No. (I know he's been to Paris and London so it can't be either of those) At this point I'm thinking it may either be Lisbon or Rome. Question 5: Is it famous for great food? Yes. And that was it, ROME, ITALY!
I was thrilled, I hadn't been to Rome since I was about 15 with my family. This would surely be a different experience.
We left Thursday, April 10 at 7pm. It was only a two hour plane ride, shorter than flying from San Diego to Denver. We got a taxi as soon as we arrived and headed towards our hotel. It turned out to be a precious little B&B with just 4 rooms, situated in a little square that had a gorgeous fountain in the center. The B&B was called Kame Hall, very clean and comfortable with a minimalist decor. A friend of Enrique's named David, was also spending the weekend in Rome with his girlfriend Beatriz. We met with them the first night in front of the Pantheon and sat down for a nice candlelit dinner together complete with pasta, pizza and wine.
The next day we woke up early and headed straight to the Vatican. It was raining and quite grey out so it we though it a good idea to spend this day inside. We started in St. Peter's Cathedral and then moved onto the Vatican Museum. The memories of my last visit were coming back to me, it was the last time the whole family traveled together. Danny hasn't come on any trips since. A student of mine had lent me a Lonely Planet for Rome and she suggested that before seeing the Sistine chapel, we pick up some binoculars. Enrique heeded this advice, and spent 18 bones on a pair. Sadly he couldn't even use it himself since he was wearing glasses, then just after lunch, it broke in his hands while he was adjusting the magnification. WE all found it to be pretty funny, especially since the packaging was rife with print concerning the unmatched quality and five point inspection it had undergone. The last time I was here I hadn't seen the Sistine Chapel, I was too young to appreciate it and felt that waiting an hour in line wouldn't be worth it. With a bit more maturity this time around, I found it to be breathtaking. I only wish a bench had been available for me to sit on because there was so much to see and my neck couldn't take much more contorting. After the Vatican we had lunch on the terrace of a cute little trattoria on the east side of the Tiber. I got the spicy Penne all 'Arrabiata... the Spaniards couldn't handle it (minus Enrique whose secret ingredient in cooking is tabasco). With our bellies filled, we headed towards the Pantheon where we came across a big political demonstration and realized it was election weekend in Italy. We kept walking until sunset and then parted ways, planning to meet each other again for dinner after a few hours of rest in our respective hotels.
DAY 2 and 3 COMING SOON>>>
PS Pictures posted in backwards order

The Coliseum

Ruins of the Roman Forum