|The lost alleys of Madrid|
In the center of Madrid, I woke up at 02:00AM and couldn't go back to sleep; so, I put on my trousers, scarf, jacket, and boots and wandered through the alleyways of the city, lost in the dark and in the cold. People approached me on the streets; they wanted something from me. I wanted nothing from them.
As it's been said:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In my lostness, I found a chocolateria, a chocolate cafe, in one of the alleys. It's been around since 1897. I ordered a beer and a hot chocolate. Odd combination but hopefully the beer would put me out. I have jet lag, really bad. Really, really, bad.
I sat in the corner. A Brazilian family sat a few tables away from me. The boy laughed and smiled to drink his hot chocolate and eat his churro (a Spanish fried donut). His older sister smiles at me. They asked me to take their picture.
The beer was just ok.
But the hot chocolate was thick, goopy, sweet, and it felt silky going down my throat. While I was drinking it, I realized I fell in love again with Madrid. I thought, Oh I wish my whole family could live here. Jeh Pan would love it. Mother would too. So, would my brother. Where else could I go, and find a place like this a walk away?
I went back to my hostel and went to bed. I woke up late in the morning. Really late. I have jet lag really bad. I did everything I could to avoid it, but it didn't work.
I had to walk to the Prado Museum today. On my way, I passed the bakery. I walked a good distance passed it, but the smell of freshly baked bread drew me back.
Inside, there were many people in the bakery. It smelled so good. I changed my plans and stayed inside.
There were so many people inside. I found a space at the counter. This was a place where people ate, standing at the counter, not sitting down.
I asked the lady at the counter, "Que es le favorito postre?" (What is your favorite pastry?)
She told me to get the cream tart. I ordered it with coffee and milk. I ate it. It was warm. It was good. I was so happy to eat such nice food again. The smell was overwhelming. It smelled hearty and like burning beer.
But I was jet lagged, and I hated it. I felt like my body controlled me, rather than I it.
A few days ago, I flew from Los Angeles to New York to Madrid. I always get jet lag bad, flying East.
And it didn't help that I stayed in a bad hostel my first two nights. It was an old apartment with strange people. One guy was in his pajamas, until 05:00PM every night. While I was trying to sleep in my room, to have a nap, to recover from jet lag, he would barge in and use our balcony. He wasn't even staying in our room. And every time he did, he'd wake me up.
Because the floors were old and creaky and squeaky. So, I'd wake up.
There was some guy from the Ivory Coast in our room. He was tall and black and his skin shone because it was so dark. He spoke French, and he spoke it loudly. He tried to look rich and impressive, but I knew he was not rich.
He would talk loudly on his cell phone, until I finally had to tell him, in my frustration, with a pillow covering my face, "Please go outside and talk. I'm trying to sleep."
There was a Japanese girl in my room. She asked me several questions, like what time it was. I think she was trying to flirt, but my body was so tired and miserable, I gave her the time, then tried to fall back asleep, which I could not do.
And somehow, somehow, these Korean guys asked if I spoke English because they needed help calling the bank, but the guy helping them only spoke Spanish. To everyone's surprise, I translated from Spanish into Korean and vice-versa. (I doubt Spaniards learn Korean, and Koreans learn Spanish, but somehow these problems fall on my lap, even halfway across the world). Their problem was solved incidentally.
I thought to myself, Oh, how I hate this place.
Then one night, I woke up at 03:00AM, and two Spaniards from Granada and a half-naked Romanian guy were in the kitchen chatting. They invited me to sit with them. I explained I had horrible jet lag. They poured me glasses of beer. I downed it, hoping I'd be able to fall asleep. They took selfies with me.
Why do these people want to take selfish with me? (He wasn't the first person.) But, they gave me beer. So, why not?
It worked. I fell asleep, but still woke up near midday, when someone entered the room, and the floors started creaking and I woke up again.
There were only two restrooms in the entire place and probably about 15 people staying there. I had to wait so often to use it.
During my time in the hostel of horrors, one good thing happened. I haven't purchased boots in 10 years. My last pair were so old and worn and the bugs had ate through the cushioning, I had to throw them away. I've been so busy, I haven't been able to buy another pair of boots in over a month.
I finally found a place in the central of Madrid, which sold these leather boots, that fit me perfectly. I was instantly in love with them. Because I'm short, I liked the fact that they made me a few inches taller. They were also a good price because the Euro is crashing in currency. I felt like a nobleman (at least in my mind) wearing them.
I tucked my khaki trousers into my leather boots; so, the boots looked stronger. But that was all the good that happened at my days at that hostel.
So, after the second day, I went through my old emails and found the last place I stayed at. I booked my spot, which was cheaper, better, and, right in the center of the City.
Funny enough, the hostel owner recognized me. I told him about my last time there, and he said, in Spanish: "Of course!"
After a few days of staying in the center of the City and eating wonderful food and seeing art that changed my life, I fell in love with Madrid again. I told myself, I wish I could save up enough money so I could live here. I'd bring my family and my mom's cat too. Jeh Pan would love it here.
(Would he really?)
But between us: It's only in dreams.
* * *
Post script: Thank you to my benefactor for the early Christmas present to see my friends in Europe. I really needed the break.