Sunday, July 20, 2014

Madrid, Spain

I felt alive in Madrid, Spain. It was hot in Madrid.  It was 40 C or 104 F.  And on the streets, people were in love.  I saw men kiss women, everywhere.  I saw men have that look of being in love at every corner.  Even gay men held hands and walked gaily through the Plaza del Sol.  I was in Barcelona two years ago and loved it.  I loved Madrid more.  (And I usually do not love capital cities.)

One of the first things I noticed was that my Spanish comprehension was a lot better.  Perhaps it was because I worked with Mexican-Americans more often now.  Perhaps it was because I was back in Baldwin Park, a city made up of 90% Mexicans.  Perhaps it was because I went to Mexico twice in the last year.  Either way, my Spanish was better.

I was really surprised by how much better my comprehension was.  I noticed this first in Turkey - when I met a Spanish couple.  They said they were from Spain, and we began having a full on dialogue at a regular conversational speed.  And I started getting more nervous as the dialogue became more difficult, but I realized, "Hey, you did it!"
At first, I spoke English at my hostel, but the guy's English wasn't that great.  I realized my Spanish was better than most of the Spaniards' English.  And then it came to my attention at the bars and restaurants yesterday that I had control of the language, and when I didn't know a word, I could ask them in Spanish to describe it,which made me realize the English word.

And the people of Spain rewarded my ability to speak Spanish.  At every restaurant I went to, I received free food or coffee for being able to converse with the host.  At one bar, the guy swore he made the best cappuccinos.  So, I told him in Spanish, "Well, give me one for free if you're so sure?"  And he did.

I rewarded him back by giving him foreign currency and telling him that Koreans say that foreign money is good luck to have in a wallet.  So, he thanked me because everybody wants to be lucky.

I stayed at a hostel.  A hostel is where four to eight people share a bedroom.  The bedroom is lined with bunk beds.  My hostel was meant for 8 people.  I usually enjoy being in a hostel, but I think I'm getting too old for staying at one.  Though no one suspects my real age, I'm not interested in what early 20 somethings are into: getting smashed up drunk and having lots of sex (or as much as they could get).

On my first night, I met a Canadian guy named Lee.  He was on the computer the whole time.  He was a computer nerd; so, I asked him to have dinner with me.  We ate Tapas (Spanish appetizers) at midnight.  Everything was still open at midnight and I loved it.  I had a piece of Tapas with cured Spanish ham and caramelized onions.  We both drank Spanish beer, which only cost $1.50 at the bar.  Wow!

Then we wandered the streets of Spain.  One street was full of prostitutes.  There were all types.  Thinner.  Fleshier.  Blonde.  Asian.  Black.  Have your choice - they were all for sale.

It was 2 am and  Lee and I were looking for some dessert.  We stumbled upon a bar, and the waitress said they close at 3 am.  I ordered two caramelized flans (Spanish custard) and coffee.  The waitress asked how I knew Spanish.  She was young and pretty.  Perhaps, I should've asked for a kiss with the cup of coffee.

Back at the hostel, Lee went back to the computer.  I went to sleep.  But we were all rudely awoken by a drunk.  He had drank so much that he had fallen asleep sitting upright in his bed and his snoring was thunderous.  It was so loud, I put a sheet over his face to muffle the noise.  It ended up cutting off much of his air circulation - which in turn - cut off the snoring.

In the morning, the drunk went to the toilet.  He sat to defecate.  Then he fell asleep on the john.  Three people opened the door disgusted.  I had to tell the hostel owner that there was a problem in our toilet.  I'm sure he thought it was plumbing, but to his surprise he found the drunkard on the toilet.

I was silently angry at this guy.  I mean what a piece of work.  And how selfish he was.  He knew he was staying in a room full of other people and to get so drunk to awaken us all was so - so - selfish.  I changed rooms the next day.

The next day, I had a conversation with a Spanish mother and her British husband and the Korean girl in our room.  The Asians were all jealous that I could speak English and Spanish.  The Brit couldn't believe in that one room I could talk with everyone around the world.

The poor Spanish mother was defrauded.  It was a difficult conversation to understand because I have never learned the vocabulary for bank transfer fraud.  But with some patience, I managed to learn new words and hear of her tragic situation.  I could only tell her I was sorry over breakfast.  

When I woke up, I ate more Tapas.  It was 11 am then.  I had a piece of steak with duck pate and caramelized onions on it.   It tasted sweet and savory and umami all at once, especially the pate.  MMMM.  I had a sangria, which was a fruit punch mixed with wine to wash away the sweet and the savory and the umami.  I was in heaven.

Afterwards, I had his gazpacho, which is cold, Tomato soup.  It was good.  I was having Tapas with a selfish Canadian guy from the hostel.  He came from a well-to-do family and came to Europe to only show off on facebook and get drunk and to have as much sex as possible.  But, hey, why not meet as many people as I could?

The host of the restaurant liked me so much he gave me free Tapas.  Haha, why are the Spanish so wonderful? 

In the evening, I ate paella, which is the Spanish fried rice with seafood.  The rice was a brilliant yellow.  And the seafood scattered over the top made my meal look like a jigsaw puzzle.

I found the paella place by asking a local where the best paella was.  She told me I had to go the Street of the Orchard.  It was a mission to ask all the local people where this small and hidden street was, but when I found it, everyone knew where the best paella place was.

The paella tasted rich from the fish broth and chicken broth.  But, because of the fresh seafood on top, it had the taste of the sea.  And the flavors were so rich.  I had to wait an hour and a half for my food.  It must have taken a long time to make it.  The flavors were so rich, I rinsed my mouth with white wine to clean my palate; so, I could repeat the experience.  I had learned something about how a real paella should taste.

The next day, I spent one full afternoon in The Prado Museum.  It had El Grecos, Picassos, Goyas, Rembrandts and more.  It took me a long time to understand the paintings.  I could write a whole blog post just on this alone.  In short, it was a very rich experience, and studying the paintings taught me how to write better - at least I think it did.

I went back to the hostel after the museum because I was so overwhelmed from analyzing each painting.  I took a nap.  And, when it was about 2 am, I became hungry.

I wandered the streets of Madrid.  I found a restaurant open.  The owner stopped everything he was doing.  He pierced a piece of octopus with his fork and said, "Eat it!"

I took it and ate it.  It was good.  He started to speak loudly to me in Spanish.  I understood.  I smiled here and there, but for the most part, I was cold to him because he was trying so hard to win me over.

He mixed me a sangria with vermouth, rum, punch, and orange juice.  It was good.  He told me his mojitos were better.  He even brought out the mint to show me that it was ferried over yesterday.

Then he insisted I tried his escargot, which are garden snails.  They were the big and tough kind.  I tapped the shells with my small fork and they clicked.  I took a toothpick and ate them.  He insisted he made the best in the world.  They were in tomato sauce.  They were great, but I realized I don't like escargot that much.  Sea escargot has a better texture not the land kind.

All, this time, he was asking about me.  What I did.  He poured himself a beer.  He poured me one.  He wrote in Spanish this: "People don't know what's important in this world."  I smiled and said, "Of course!"

He spoke in slang.  I couldn't understand Spanish slang.  He kept saying, "Vale."

I asked, "What is vale?"

He said, "Vale is vale."

"That doesn't help."

And so for a good portion of the night, the guy taught me Spanish slang. 

Then he opened the fridge and got out the gazpacho.   He took out a tea cup and poured me the pink slurry.  I tasted it.  It was like the last one I had except better because he had filled it with rich olive oil.  I drank it and drank some more.  Ok, he won me over.  Only someone who loved life would put the extra effort into making gazpacho like this.

I asked him what time it closed.  He said, "Whenever I like.  5 am.  6 am.  Any time is good.  Yay!"  

Then some Italian youth came in.  He wooed them over.  He poured them beers.  But he quickly saw that I was getting bored by myself and ready to leave.  So, he brought us altogether to play a drinking game with Spanish pennies.

It was great fun and I'm glad he did this because I thoroughly enjoyed the Italians.  One girl had an iris that was half green and half blue.  It looked exotic.

I won the game, even though I couldn't understand all of the rules in Spanish.  It was 3 am and I had to fly out tomorrow.  I gave the Italians a hug.  But the host gave me the biggest hug of all.  He gave me three big bear hugs and said, "Remember to come back."

And that was my last night in Spain.  That was my last night of holidays.

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