I had just arrived at the airport with bug eyes, a rolling suitcase, and was picked up by a gentleman in his 50’s, a friend of my stepdad’s. He was nice enough to offer me shelter for my first weekend in Madrid until I could move into my own room in a girl’s housing facility (“residencia” in Spanish). I decided to spend 6 months in this city in order to improve my Spanish (and for University credit). It was nice to know someone – although I didn’t really know him. I only knew of him up to this point.
He was a wealthy man; always helpful, kind, and assisted me in settling in. Together with his wife at the time, we went to dinner at a seafood restaurant called “Portobello”- best lobster bisque I’ve ever had. The place was as busy as the city itself – with waiters rushing through the room, maneuvering around tables like at a busy traffic intersection, always yelling, talking to themselves, each other, throwing food around, turning on their heels. The guy behind the lobster tank screams across the restaurant while he holds up one of the crustaceans shortly before he drops it into the tank of boiling water. And the smell of fresh seafood and expensive wine filling the air. My bug eyes would stay this way for a while. What a great start in this crazy city!
When I moved into the house with 26 Spanish girls, I was overwhelmed, intrigued, curious, intimidated, and grateful to have my own room. It quickly became my refuge for daily rescue phone calls to mom, playing computer games, and doing anything to avoid the outside world. I was too scared that I might like it. Or miss my old life a little less.
The other girls mostly shared their rooms. One of them was Teresa. She forced me, in a nice way… no, actually, she was pretty blunt about it… to go out with her, roam the streets of Madrid and make me feel less isolated. No time like the present. There was a bar just outside our 5-story apartment complex, which was usually the last stop after a night out. It was the most run-down bar you could imagine. It’s 2 am, the floors are soaked with who-knows-what, the bathroom doors are open because what’s the point in closing them at this time, right? The DJ was playing 90s dance and techno music, the audience was mostly Spanish, Mexican, and Filipino. We felt like the stars of that bar – and we got as much attention as we hadn’t received in a lifetime, it felt. Probably not the kind of attention you’d voluntarily choose, but at 4 am, who cares?! We sang along to songs we didn’t know, danced on sticky and wet floors, and drank chupitos out of dirty cups. I think I fell down twice. It was wonderful.
The last stop before the end of a night out were the steps outside of our building. We sat on the cold floor behind security bars that would protect us from the homeless people out on the prowl and from any other potential unwanted intruder. We sat there, finished our drinks, talked, and watched the sun rise. Then we went upstairs to sleep, only to wake up at noon the next day, watching a couple of episodes of our favorite TV show and to go out the next night.
Madrid is one of the greatest cities I’ve even visited. Which is why I extended my 6-months stay beyond the life I had known and turned it into my new home for almost 3 years. I miss it. Mostly because of the feeling the memory gives me. Every experience has its time, and nostalgia makes us remember only the positive side of what we lived through. To this day, I’m grateful to have had this experience, to live in a city as vivid, candid, and full of culture as Madrid. The city’s motto is “On water I was built, my walls are made of fire…” You will always be in my heart.
(#My500words Day 4)