La Vida Madrileña (Laura)
So we realize it may seem to you like we are just traveling around and not actually living in Madrid. Project Gaylord was supposed to be “1 Year Living In Madrid,” right? Well, it did take us longer to get settled than we thought, but after the last summer visitor left in early September, we finally moved into our own apartment (that we now affectionately call “The Igloo”) and got started with La Vida Madrileña. The reason we keep only writing about travels outside of Madrid is twofold: because it’s when we are traveling that we have time on planes and trains to write, and because there is so much to say about life in Madrid that the task of condensing it into a blog post is overwhelming. Since we’re in fact on a train right now from Nuremburg to Salzburg, we have some time to at least fill you in on what we’ve been doing.
Our apartment is situated in an awesome location in the Salamanca neighborhood, about a fifteen-minute walk up from Retiro Park. While this is known as the ritzy shopping area full of “pijos” (rich snobs, a.k.a. The Marina in S.F.), we are a bit north of that scene in a neighborhood full of cute bars, restaurants, tapas joints, and cafes (looks like the Mclively´s managed to find Madrid’s Rockridge…). But our favorite thing about the location is that we can walk almost everywhere we need to go on a daily basis. We found the flat through my favorite site in the world, airbnb.com, and worked out a lease from September through May with the option to extend monthly. We’re pretty comfy here, except for the fact that it’s completely covered in white tile which, now that Madrid is freezing, makes us feel like we live in an igloo.
The same week we moved in to our flat, we signed up for Spanish courses at the same school my sister used two years ago, AIL. Mike started the intensive which includes twenty hours of class a week, and I signed up for twelve hours a week. The clases are separated by level, and have anywhere from two to eight students at a time. The fact that Mike easily placed into the second-highest level is a testament to how diligently he has worked at his Spanish. We also get to access to any of the activities offered each evening from 5-7pm, ranging from cooking classes to walking tours to museum visits to lectures of “How to swear like a Spaniard” (by the way, it turns out in Spain that you can say “I shit on _____[fill in the blank with ANYTHING]” and it sounds normal). Between the classes and the activities, we have learned a ton, met a lot of fun people, and seen a lot of Madrid.
Last week was our last week of class after ten wonderful weeks, and we both already miss it. We both loved our teachers (Mike made Paloma cry the last day with a sappy card… teacher´s pet) and our classmates, but more on them in the next post, “Cast of Characters.” It was also great being back in the student’s life… fifteen-minute walk to class, two hours of lessons, grab coffee and a snack on the break with classmates, two more hours of class, late lunch, walk through Retiro Park, then evening activities, then either go home to do homework or go out with friends. To us that’s close to heaven. Mike’s Spanish has improved so much– I can’t believe how much he has learned in just a few weeks. Granted, he mostly uses the phrases he learned in the “how to swear like a Spaniard” class.
Since I was doing only twelve hours of class a week plus the activities, I sought out some other opportunities to fill my time. Two days a week I have flamenco class…. yes, I know it’s hard to resist laughing when you picture me dancing flamenco in my torpedo-sized, custom-made-because-my-size doesn’t-exist, metal-bottomed flamenco shoes… But honestly, it’s so much fun. I was surprised to find that the other girls are all Spanish–I had thought that flamenco class was something mostly tourists would want to do. Unfortunately I have no room to practice at home, but I do practice the hand-claps and sexy-walk down the hallway, despite the eye-rolling from Mike.
My other extra activity is volunteering though an organization for older people who don’t have many resources. My assignment is to be at the municipal market on Thursdays to help the older people carry their groceries from stall to stall while they do they shopping and to then to walk their groceries home with them. The goal is to help them maintain their independence by making it easier to continue to do their own shopping, to make it easier to buy nutritious foods (because the healthy foods like produce and milk weigh a lot and are difficult to carry home), and to foster intergenerational relationships. Right on. Why don’t we have this in America? I love this project, and selfishly speaking I feel great doing it and get to speak Spanish all day. But as if these rewards weren’t enough, the best reward of all is befriending my co-volunteer, Miguel Angel.
When you sign up to volunteer to help people and end up making a friend like Miguel Angel because of it, that’s karma at work. M.A. is in his fifties, takes English class every morning, does yoga, volunteers every day, and loves to cook and talk about food as much as I do. He and his husband live in a gorgeous penthouse that overlooks the Royal Palace and river. In between waiting for little old ladies that will accept our help, he takes me around to all the stalls and identifies all the weird seafood and meat and explains how you prepare it and how you eat it. It’s amazing to see and hear all the different names for each type of shellfish and crustacean in Spain, and I have a hard time convincing M.A. that the translation for whatever exotic animal he is showing me is, just as it was for the last twenty things he showed me, “clam” or “shrimp.” We eventually decided to start a cooking/language exchange. Thursday after we volunteer we go cook at least three to four traditional dishes that we then split in half for each of us to eat with our husbands later that night. The first time we did this, he taught me how to make octopus gallego, berberechos (little tiny tiny “clams”), and rabbit “al ajillo.” Since then we’ve also made calamari in its ink, oso bucco, green beans with shrimp, hazelnut cookies, and wild mushroom ragout. We usually blast Elton John and cook away while correcting each other’s English and Spanish. Oh, and they also have a piano they let me play, so clearly I’m in heaven! Next week we are making cured salmon and garlic soup…
Now that we’ve finished with school, we’ll have to figure out what will fill those hours and what will define this next chapter of Project Gaylord. But first, my mom and sister are coming next week for almost a month, so we are going to have a blast with them and enjoy our first holiday with all our family here in Madrid.