Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Where's Walgreen's?

I've been in Madrid a little more than 3 weeks now. And today I realized what I miss the most about the States. Now, I'm talking selfish, trivial things that I miss - not like family and friends. I've been struggling over the past couple weeks to find the exact spices that I need for my old stand-by recipes from home. Ground ginger, dried cliantro, and ground ginger are proving particularly difficult to find. And I miss having a tennis court in my backyard, as we did in our Florida condo. But what I miss the most is... Walgreen's.

Or CVS for that matter. I just miss the American "drug store" that isn't really a drug store anymore. Walgreen's is like a little tiny, more expensive Wal-Mart where I could LITERALLY spend an hour roaming the aisles. Make-up, books, greeting cards, candy, pool toys, medicine, picture frames, passport pictures, hair accesories, perfume, magazines, cleaning supplies. Walgreen's has it all. You go in for one thing and come out with 10. And I miss that.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Elections 27-M

Yesterday were the local elections in the majority of Spain. I wasn't overly interested in it as everyone knew that things in Madrid were unlikely to change. Indeed they did not. I was more annoyed by the mind-numbingly boring presentation of the election results. At one point they even had the Vice President of the government come out to read the results. She went through each political party and the number of votes won, the percentage of votes won, and the number of representatives won (for the regional governments). Let me tell you. It was better than counting sheep. "Partido Socialista Obrero Español, con siete milliones, setecientos siete mil, ciento treintinueve votos, un trenticuatro coma noventa porciento en porcentaje, y no se cuantos consejales." And that was just one party. I think there were like 6 or more. I think a better idea would be for them to get some children to sing out the election results just like el Gordo de Navidad (check out the link for info and video - thanks to NotesfromSpain).

One thing that did impress me was that the voter turnout was around 64%! And that was down 4% from the last elections. I think the 2004 presidential elections in the US saw about 40% turnout. Pretty shameful in comparison. A lot of Spanish people complain that the parties are all the same and nothing ever changes. The same complaints that you hear in the US. But at least the Spanish people still get out and vote.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Recent History

Living here in Spain has made me realize how ignorant I am of the modern history of Europe. In school it always seemed like my history teachers ran out of time at the end of the year and we never made it much past World War I (if that). Even my AP European History class didn't get to World War II. The history of Spain, in particular, has begun to fascinate me - I think because it feels so recent. I remember when I was living here before and they were celebrating 25 years of democracy. 25! So, in light of this newfound ignorance, I decided I was going to look for a book on Spanish history and this morning I headed to Casa del Libro up near Goya. It was there that I was confronted with confirmation of my ignorance. A number of the banks up around the bookstore had been covered in these posters in honor of the upcoming election (this coming Sunday).

They say, simply, "The Spain that fights votes for La Falange." (I think. It might say, "The Spain that fights. Vote La Falange.") Now, like I said, I don't know much about recent Spanish history, but the name Falange stuck in my mind. If I remember correctly the Falange was the main political party controlled by Franco during his 35 years of power. I THOUGHT they had disappeared shortly after his death in the '70s. But then I see these posters... I find it fascinating that some of the defining history of recent Spain is really so recent. So much so that people who pass me on the street each day lived through it. I tried to take these pictures somewhat discreetly because I didn't know if it was somehow disresepectful. I really need to find a good history book!

Monday, May 21, 2007

TV anyone?

The Spanish people have a certain fame for tardiness. I think, perhaps, that comes not from disrespect of anyone, but from a more laid-back attitude towards time in general. I was struck by this recently when I was checking out the TV listings. Check out the photo above, courtesy of the 20minutos website, showing the TV listings for today. Very few of the shows start or end on the hour. Coming from the US, where all TV programs, be they news, game shows, movies, or sporting events, fit nicely into 1/2 hour increments, I find this strange and mildly annoying. Here in Spain there are certain shows that are broadcast every night, and the show starts every night at a different time. It's always more or less around the same time, but you are never quite certain of the exact time.

I find this most annoying when it comes to movies. A number of the big channels show a movie each night at (or around) 10pm. Tonight one of them starts at 10:05 and one starts at 9:55. The problem with movies is that I never know the actual (be that English) name of the movie unless I see the opening credits. So knowing the exact time of the movie is rather important. Granted, the TV guide might say the movie starts at 10:05, but then you watch it and it really doesn't even start until 10:09. Perhaps I am displaying some anal retentiveness here. It is only TV after all. But I think it's somewhat representative of the overall atitude towards the reloj (clock) in general.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A corner of Puerta Toledo

We went to lunch at Nacho's parents house yesterday. On our way there, we switched busses in Puerta Toledo, and while waiting for the 2nd bus, snapped the shot above. It's a smorgasbord of typical Madrid sites. To the right of the street light you can see a group of people dressed in the traditional outfits of San Isidro (see the previous entry). In the bottom left corner you can see another man walking to join them.

You can also see the fruit stand someone has mounted on the corner. These little stands aren't endorsed by the City, but, as they aren't doing damage to anything or anyone, they are typically left alone. The same cannot be said for the multitude of people who sell pirated CDs, DVDs, and video games on the street corners and in the metro stops.

And, rounding out the picture is the taxi in the top right corner. They might not be as bright as the yellow cabs of New York, but they are certainly as numerous.
Below is a shot of the actual Puerta Toledo. it's not the best shot, but you can get a glimpse of the beautiful flowers surrounding the base. And, check out the guys dressed in green tending to the same. They're making sure the City stays beautiful.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

San Isidro (Happy Birthday, Kelly!!)

Today is the fiesta de San Isidro, patron saint of Madrid, and, of course, a holiday in the City. Like most madrileños, Nacho and I took to the street in traditional celebratory style. Well, perhaps not exactly in the traditional style, but in the typical one. Plenty of other people were out and about in the traditional style - young and old dressed up the regional outfits - long ruffly dresses for the ladies and vests and caps for the men.

Anyway, we went for tapas with some friends to the neighborhood of La Latina and la cava baja. The area was packed with people and all of the terrazas were full. In search of a bar with room for 4 (standing room only, of course, but today even that was hard to find) we wandered down la calle del almendro. In honor of the fiesta, there were banners and streamers draped across the narrow distance between the buildings and stands were set up with beaded jewelry, scarves, and hats for sale. Groups of people moved in and out of the small bars along the street. Others lounged on the cobbled stones drinking and smoking and chatting. It seemed to us as though we'd left Madrid behind and, in a few short steps, had moved to a small pueblo elsewhere in Spain. Strangely, although the setting was certainly not quiet, it was definitely tranquil.

We did find space for 4 in one of the bars and after a while even managed to grab a table. Later as we walked back towards the metro, remarking how special the environment was, we were interrupted by a car horn from behind. A taxi was making it's way up the narrow street, bringing us back to the reality of modern Madrid. As we typically end up in the neighborhood for dinner and copas, we aren't sure if what we experienced was a result of the fiesta or was a regular occurrence. Regardless, it was unique for us, and a reminder to me that Madrid is a big city that unites small barrios.

P.S. Today is also my sister's birthday. I told her that all of the City is celebrating with her!
Love you, Kel!!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Crazy for Futból

This past weekend was a big one for soccer - or should I say futból. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are in a neck-and-neck race for the top of La Liga and everyone is talking about it. Going into the weekend los blancos (Madrid) were behind Barça by 2 points. Saturday saw an exciting comeback for Real Madrid to get a 4-3 win after being down 3-1. More shocking was the tie for Barcelona on Sunday. That put the two in a tie for points atop the leaderboard but, as a result of points scored in the 2 matchups between the rivals, Madrid is currently in 1st.

The excitement for me was not in the actual football, although I must say that I did enjoy the games and that I am gaining an interest in the sport, being a sports person by nature. (My true love is baseball and we do get the occasional game on cable here. Too bad it's always the Yankees against someone and the Cardinals never play the Yankees...) Aside from the actual sporting value of the games, the fun part for me was hearing the City erupt at each goal. We had our windows open so at each Madrid goal (there were 4) we were met with shouts and horns from the street below. And the street was much more emtpy than normal - everyone was in a bar or at home watching the game. The sport definitely unites the City. And divides the country.

Also of note is the footage they've been showing on the news of the fans in Barcelona heckling their team at practice today. In the States, or at least in St. Louis, the fans don't typically bother their OWN team. But football here is more than sport.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tennis above the City

We played tennis yesterday at the courts in the Parque de la Elipa over on the east side of town. (I still haven't gotten into the habit of taking my camera with me everywhere so no foto except for the one above courtesy of Google Earth - red boundary added by yours truly.) The park is home to a pretty large municipal sports complex with fields/courts for hockey, raquetball, baseball (does anyone play that here??), soccer, and tennis, plus a couple of swimming pools and, of course, the ever present cafeteria for those not interested in sport. We had made a reservation for one of the courts online (a nice service offered by the City) and were eager to check things out - having been 4-time-a-week players back in Florida.

Although you can't see it from the Google Earth image, the park site atop a hill and the tennis courts are pretty much arriba de todo. In some directions you see building tops. In others you can't see even that. It feels as though you are on top of the City. And it really does let you escape from the frenetic pace below.

The tennis in itself wasn't the most inspiring. We hadn't played in more than 2 months and we had plenty of things to blame our difficulties on. The court was a different surface (REALLY fast). The air is drier (Yesterday's humidity: Madrid - 43%, South Florida - 86%). The air is lighter (Madrid sits at almost 2000 feet above sea level; South Florida is about 25 feet above sea level).

But in the end, despite our playing tennis as though we'd forgotten what a racquet was, we did manage to have a wonderful time. And we will definitely go back. In fact, we made another online reservation for Monday morning. Maybe I'll take my camera this time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Learning to walk again

I think I've lost some of my courage. When I lived in Madrid 4 years ago I had to do everything for myself - bank accounts, utility bills, fruit purchases. Everything. This time around I have Nacho by my side and I have come to realize that perhaps I am depending upon him for too much. I'm certainly glad to have him here to take the lead on more cumbersome things (like dealing with immigration - which I'll blog about in some weeks when I hopefully have some good news), but I depend on him for many small things too. And I need to get away from that. I did this before and I can do it again.

So perhaps I haven't lost my courage, but it's hidden away in one of the boxes that I haven't yet opened. I just need some time to unpack it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

My hero, the porter

I've never been one to use the porters at the airport. I prefer to flex my muscles and carry everything myself. However, when I arrived at the St. Louis airport last Friday I knew full well that a porter was needed. I had 3 BIG suitcases, all of which I suspected of being overweight. I was definitely right about that. Jeffrey, the lucky porter, helped me carry the bags into the international check-in where I expected to pay my overweight dues and be done with things. Whoops - what I hadn't realized was that there is an abolute maximum weight limit of 70 pounds for a suitcase to Europe. On a constant diet of shopping with Mom, my suitcases had packed on the pounds recently - two of them were over that limit and all three were packed to the gills. Definitely no room to move things around to make up the difference. No worries. Jeff offered to stay with my bags while I ran downstairs to buy another suitcase. Not only did he wait for me, but when I returned and started pulling things from my bags he ran with them back and forth to the scale until we got the big guys down under 70 pounds. Not even then did he abandon me. Finally after I had all 4 suitcases checked to Madrid and he had carried them over to the TSA crew for screening did we say our good-byes.

My overage on the luggage cost me $335 - including $40 for the new suitcase - but the most valuable money spent was the tip Jeff earned. I simply couldn't have done it without him. Or perhaps I could have but never so calmly and efficiently. My peace of mind on the roughly 12 hour trip was saved by that man.

Friday, May 4, 2007


I’m leaving for Spain tomorrow. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. One minute I am really excited about the future ahead, the next I am nervous for the very same reason. Tonight I said good-bye to my family. They’ll all be at work when I leave tomorrow. It was a tough good-bye even though I haven’t lived near them in almost 10 years. I wasn’t even living within driving distance really. But I don’t think that this time the depth of emotion was really all about the distance. It was about the sense of finality, of permanency.

Whenever I’ve left “home” previously, I always thought that it would be for a finite period of time. That somehow made the move easier. I’ve always believed that no action is still action and that the lack of a decision is still a decision in itself. But I guess it’s simply easier to stay put – even in a foreign environment– than it is to move on. When I first moved to Madrid almost 6 years ago I thought I would be staying just for the summer. I ended up staying for 2 years. Nacho first came to the US on a student visa for 9 months. He stayed almost 2 1/2 years! But we never expected it to be that way. So we said our good-byes to friends and family, thinking that it wouldn’t be that long until we saw them again. Not even just until we saw them again but until we were back in the bosom of the people and land that knew us best. On we went on our merry way – eager for the excitement of something new, confident that home would be there when we were ready to return.

Nacho and I are in agreement that these first couple years in Madrid will be a trial for us. A trial to see if the happiness we seek is found in Spain or if we need to keep searching. When people ask me if I am moving for good, I say, “I hope so because that means we’ve found happiness.” Despite that truth, the move does make me a touch sad. Not because I don’t want to go. But because I don’t know when I’ll be back. Sure, I’ll be back for vacations, weddings, Christmas. But I don’t know if I’ll be back to live. Leaving home is never easy. It’s particularly hard when it’s permanent…

P.S. The pic is me and Nacho on the day we closed on the sale of our condo. Another day that was bittersweet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Gateway to the West

Seeing as how the subtitle of this blog is From suburban St. Louis to the streets of Madrid, it seems only wise that I give some background on the former before I move on to the latter. When living in Madrid I am typically identified solely as an American. Occasionally I am asked what state I’m from. I always say, “Missouri,” of course, and immediately follow that with a lesson in US geography. “It’s in the middle.”

St. Louis is not a city immediately known to foreigners. Perhaps it isn’t even that well known to many Americans. Frequently it is ignored like a proverbial middle child, second to Chicago in the “family” of the Midwest. In truth, St. Louis can hold its own just fine when compared with some of the more prominent American cities. Sure, we’ve got the stuff that everyone knows about – the 2006 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, for starters. And the Gateway Arch, Budweiser Beer, and the start of the Lewis and Clark Trail. How about Chuck Berry, Route 66, Nelly, and toasted ravioli? There’s even a St. Louis-style pizza. i think it takes living in a place to really understand and appreciate it. I’ve had the fortune of doing that in St. Louis.

Madrid, perhaps, is like the St. Louis of Europe. For many Americans, it is overlooked in deference to London, Paris, Rome, and Berlin. But it boasts its own unique culture that needs to be explored. Just as St. Louis does.