Monday, November 30, 2009

Madrid Makes Struggle Even Sicker

Has life ever seemed to be a wild french farce to you? No? Well, it does to me, almost daily. Now that I'm finally settled into my apartment and my life in Madrid, now that I'm feeling the slightest bit comfortable and able to communicate fairly decently in Spanish, now that I really feel like I've got the metro system down and I know where to buy the cheap groceries, of course now would be the time that I once again get sick. Of course. It's only fair. Thanks, struggleverse, always a pleasure.

To be fair to the powers that be, however, at least this time I'm living in an apartment rather then in a hostel, so this time I can shut my door and cough away to my heart's content without worrying about drunken backpackers stumbling into my room at 4 in the morning. This is not to say that people aren't stumbling into the apartment at 4 in the morning, but at least they don't come into my room and turn on the light, so, you know, major improvement. And, given how much I've been coughing lately, I can at least be happy with the thought that I'm bothering my roommates just as much as they bother me.

So, this past weekend, while others were out at all hours of the night dancing to electronica in clubs and elbowing their way to the bar for mojitos (which are strangely popular here, don't ask me why), I myself was getting acquainted with some chicken soup and tea and forging a deep and personal bond with my bed. To keep myself occupied and, frankly, to prevent myself from downloading ever episode of 30 Rock ever aired, I started reading Sylvia Path's iconic novel The Bell Jar. As I traveled through the world of New York in the 1950's with it's bizarre gender relations and pressures, I couldn't help but consider through my dayquil and lemon-tea soaked haze, all that has changed and all that has stayed the same. The main character of the novel, Ester, worries that the only thing she is good at is being a student, and when she no longer feels motivated by acedamia she sinks into depression and madness. I'm not sure if this is a good book to read after your college graduation or a terrible one, but on the upside, well, it sure makes my life seem better by comparison. Sure, I may be in a similar situation, a little lost, a little bewildered, and I do so love my full skirts and cardigans, , but at the end of the day my generation of women have a lot more going for them then the ability to write in shorthand and at the very least no one I know is even thinking about getting pinned. All in all, I guess I would say that sick or not, I'm glad to be living in this age if 1955 is my alternative. I mean, does anyone actually use shorthand anymore?

I woke up feeling better this morning, and I'm almost done with Sylvia Plath. I also found a new song I like. Things are looking up, it seems.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Struggle Would Like to Give Thanks

Ah, Thanksgiving, that special time of year where it's socially acceptable to eat so much that you either pass out and drink so much that it seems like a good idea to scream at a group of men in strangely tight pants as they throw a ball around a large field of grass. Well, to be perfectly fair, back home in the States both of those things tend to be socially acceptable ANYWAY, but I think you see my point. The fact is that I actually usually find something strangely comforting about this holiday, the food, the family, the copious amounts of alcohol (oh, dear, is your family not like mine? Pity). Despite it's puritanical heritage, it isn't a particularly religious holiday, so everyone can pretty much celebrate it as they like. As my mother reminded me, the true origins of the holiday really lie in a group of desperate and isolated people who were probably so thrilled to have lived through the year in that terrible and strange land we now know as Massachusetts that they were just looking for a little celebration. I'm sure they never dreamed that one day their distant ancestors would be honoring the tumultuous early years of settlement and slaughter by covering sweet potatoes with marshmallows and trying to eat our weight in turkey. How proud they must be.

Of course, this year I'm not spending Thanksgiving in the States, so I supposed it's a whole new ballgame. As turkey is one of the few native foods of North America it can be fairly difficult to find here in the land of smoked pig products, so that was out. And because my decision to come to Madrid was spontaneous, to put it mildly, I don't really know enough people here to cook a whole bird of any kind, I mean, considering all the people I know here, frankly, a cornish game hen might be pushing it. So what is an American girl in Spain to do? Well, the only thing she can, frankly, which is make a nice meal for the few people she can rope into bringing wine, and count her blessings. Frankly, considering how cheap wine is here, that's not so bad, all things considering.

There are a lot of things I'm thankful for this year. As always, I'm thankful for the big things, my family, my friends, my wireless internet connection. However, I've always said that it's the little things that make life worth living. Here is the short list, in no particular order:
1. Mad Men, Season 3
2. Impossible dogs, and the people who put sweaters on them
3. The fact that I saw an old man hit a waiter with a cane today in a Cerveceria
5. The fact that I no longer live in a hostel, though at times my apartment feels like one...
6. Free tapas with every glass of wine at basically everywhere in the greater Madrid area.
7. In light of the temperature fluctuations here in Madrid, the fact that I brought multiple layers to Europe.
8. The fact that I will be back in the US by the time Sherlock Holmes comes into theaters
9. Free entrance to El Prado and El Reina Sofia daily.
10. The fact that no matter where I am, my flourless chocolate cake still sames to taste the same.

I must say, while we in the States might think we know what it's like to love sports, but we have NOTHING on Europe. I saw a group of men crying the other day when Real Madrid won in a seasonal match with Zurich. Take THAT, Superbowl. To all you football fans who are offended, well, call me when you start crying.

As for the rest of you, Happy Thanksgiving! Eat some extra turkey for me. I myself will be contenting my stomach with chicken. Same difference, right?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Road to Struggle is Paved with Good Intentions

This morning I woke up at 11:30. While for some people this might not seem like anything out of the ordinary, for me it is a bit odd, as I make a solid effort to rise daily before 10. As I have school five days a week here in Madrid, I usually wake up around 8:30 to make it to class on time, so on the weekends my system tends to be accustomed to getting up at a respectable hour. And because I really really really like sleeping, I tend to go to bed before the sun begins to rise in order to be able to wake up at these early hours. While to most people this might sound normal, here in Madrid if you aren't drunkenly watching the sunrise daily then, well, you aren't living. I've actually met people who come to Madrid for a three day period, just to party, and never ever see the city in daylight. (And I thought MY friends were partiers, hi Jon!) Thought this amazes me, I generally try to think about it as a practice of an extraterrestrial, that is to say, I can observe and respect it without really letting it impact my life. Or at least, I thought I could.

The fact is that the last two weekends when I have arrived in my apartment with every intention of going to sleep, waking up early, and generally being like everyone else in the world, well, Madrid just keeps getting in the way. During the period of time I fully expect to be sleeping I might, for example, find myself having a heated debate over American fast food chains with a frenchman while fighting a german girl for the last shot of whiskey. Or I might be talking about the Italian government with a pair of syblings from Turin while observing a Spanish barman ask a Chinese couple to leave. (Have I mentioned lately that this place might just be a wee bit racist?) Either way, when I look down at my watch it's at least 3 hours later then I think it should be and I'm within the 4 hour mark of sunrise. And the strange this is that almost everyone I live with has remarked on how early I turn in when we go out.

Now, I recognize that as a 22 year old living in a foreign country I really should probably want to explore the discotecas and body-shots so popular with the young people these days. But frankly the idea of pumping techno music and aging Spanish lotharios taking a break from their wives for the night doesn't exactly appeal to me. Moreover, I happen to think that there are plenty of things worth doing in this city or it's surrounding countryside while there is still sun in the sky, regardless of what some guidebooks would have you think. But I don't want to be rude, and at the end of the day it's better to be talking to drunken Swedish people then no one at all, so I end up going out most of the night AND, because I'm just too compulsive not to, exploring this area of Spain all day. I honestly don't think I'm going to sleep a full night until I return to the States.

For a fun beverage when drinking socially here, they literally mix red wine with coca cola. It's called calimocho and it's a real thing. What is it they keep saying about how sophisticated Europe is?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Struggle Goes Medieval

While there are certainly enough things to do in Madrid to keep a person occupied for quite a while, I mean, the street performers alone deserve at least a month-long tour, it can be nice to get out of the city, if only for a day. So earlier this week when wandering around Madrid and thinking for the 10th time that day that Madrid is bizarre, I decided that it was time for me to spend a day away.

One of the delightful things about Madrid is that not only is it a gorgous city in and of itself, but it's frighteningly well located. Within two hours from Madrid are at least 10 cities, five of which are worth seeing. Sorry, other five, but I think you know that to be the truth. So when you want to take some time apart you've got a lot of options. I myself, for my first day trip out of the city, decided to venture to the beautiful city of Toledo, whose winding cobblestone streets and golden stone buildings make the place look like it just time traveled from 1305. Luckily for those who visit Toledo today, they will not be required to invent the horse collar or do anything involving midden. Instead, what they will find is a claustrophobic little place with twisting turning paths and a 500 year old church around every corner. That is, if they can even REACH Toledo, because, as we all know by now, getting anywhere by train in this country is the equivalent of inventing the wheel, it's not impossible, obviously, it can be done, but DAMN is it a struggle!

When I arrived at Madrid's Atocha Train Station I made my way quickly to the ticket office. Now, it should first be said that Madrid is clearly a very modern city, and the Atocha Train station is a very modern train station. Clean, relatively, and full of signs in both English and Spanish, at first glance the station doesn't appear to be a mess on top of a struggle. How deceived I was, my friends, how deceived. As you enter the main ticket office, which issues all tickets for trains going outside of Madrid more then 20 minutes, you might observe what feels like ten million people waiting. After a few moments, you might also realize that everyone is holding small slips of paper with numbers on them. Okay, that makes sense, right? Taking a number? But where could the number machine be? Certainly it wouldn't be in plain site, in an easily accessible location, that would be CRAZY. No, it's got to be in the corner, half covered by a plant, an unsung hero living in the dark. And is the machine a nice clean new object that looks like it was made in the last 40 years and is being held together by more then tape? Why, of course it doesn't! When I finally got my number it turned out that there were 37 people in front of me in line. Say it with me, can you? STRUGGLE.

So perhaps it isn't that Toledo is so beautiful, but rather that after the ordeal of buying the tickets and waiting for the train and walking 20 minutes uphill to reach the city made getting there such a relief that it could have been Pittsburgh and I woul have been thrilled to see it. Luckily, Toledo is not Pittsburgh, so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I spent the day strolling, or rather, climbing the hilly little city which is chock full of tiny Mosques, huge Churches and medium sized Synagogues. It's a regular monster-mash of sacred spaces, really, all beautiful and all chock full of tourists staring at maps. I myself was among them, to be fair, as I got lost no less then 5 times in the space of five hours. By the time I returned to Madrid Saturday night it was almost a relief to find myself back in a big city, because at least by this point I know the way back to my bed. Sometimes, well, that's all you can hope for.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Struggle Sweeps the City

There is nothing quite like having a friend visit you when you are living alone in a foreign country. For those of you have have yet to have this experience, i.e., most of the world's population, let me inform you that it is a glorious experience, because in an desert of strangers a familiar face is like an palm tree oasis. (I've been thinking about Aladdin a lot lately. I like Abu, the little monkey, I like his vest. What? He's delightful!)

So when my friend Haley, hi Haley!, mentioned she might want to come to Madrid, I jumped at the chance to have her here. Because Haley is living the glamorous life in Paris (well for those prices it had BETTER be glamorous), it's not too difficult for her to jump across the border and enter the land of huge rice dishes and odd Franco references. It's frankly the MetroNorth of plane travel, to be honest. For those of you who don't get that, well, move to New Haven for, like, five minutes, and then you will.

Now, considering I live in an apartment with approximately ten billion other people, the chance to stay in a posh hotel with one of my best friends seemed like an ideal prospect, especially considering just how many of my roommates seem to be at the peak of their, um, stamina, let's say, in the mornings. What I didn't consider was just how strange it would be to experience Madrid as a tourist, strolling through the calles and avenidas like the American I try so hard not to be. Honestly, it was rather a relief to be walking around the city with Haley, gawking at all the quintessential Spanishness, being troubled by the increasingly pathetic street performers, marveling at the oddness at every turn. As Haley marveled at the beggars in the streets, the low prices (because compared to Paris Dubai is an outlet store, really) and the ability to smoke anywhere you please, I couldn't help but be grateful. There is nothing like having someone used to the French around to make you appreciate the Spanish. And you can quote me on that.

Now that Haley has returned to Paris and I am still living a life with one foot in the third world (Thank you, Spain), I only hope I can keep that sense of gratitude with me. Considering that I have yet to meet a friendly waiter, a kind shop owner, or any person who says "Excuse me" when they straight up run into you on the street, I'm thinking it's going to be a struggle. Oh, well, if there's one thing I do well...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Struggleween

I really enjoy Halloween, I have to say. It's actually always been a favorite holiday of mine, something about the idea of eating copious amounts of candy, or, as we grow older and wiser, drinking copious amounts of alcohol that's been created to taste like candy as we sit around in funny outfits and watch movies whose primary dialogue is screaming. I guess I just like all the costumes, really, even those that observe the now-famous slut rule (I swear, I'm just waiting for the slutty nun and slutty saints costumes, my GOD girls, put those things AWAY). So I find it rather sad that I've spent at least two out of my 22 Halloweens away from the United States. (To be fair, however, I can't really remember my first 5 Halloweens, so those are lost to me as well. There, that's 7. Damn.)

When I spent my Halloween in Russia I was living with a group of Russian students who delighted in the concept of Halloween and practically forced us at gunpoint (or at vodka-point, much more dangerous), to have a party. However, something about running around a soviet-area apartment building in a Hedi-of-the-Swiss-Alps costume seemed, I don't know, romantic, dashing, totally insane, take your pick. Again, there was vodka, so it's all kind of a blur. But this year, here in the struggle that is Spain, I just wasn't feeling the Halloween magic. Something about the holiday just didn't resonate with me this year. Perhaps the idea of dressing up as someone else isn't as appealing when your own life is a mess, I don't know, sort of an anti-escapist thing. Or maybe it's because I don't know anyone here in Madrid who would really get my June Carter circa 1967 costume, complete with go-go boots and a painkiller addicted sidekick. I don't know. But really, I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself.

Luckily, my Spanish teacher had told me about a vintage movie theater in Madrid which shows movies in their original format. The strange fact about Spanish cinema is that they tend to dub absolutely everything in theaters, and as fun as the idea of watching rapid fire Spanish come out of Kathrine Hegel's mouth is, well, I'm not really willing to pay 10 euros for the privilege. So instead of catching up on the latest in romantic comedies, I've been watching classic American films for less then 3 euros a piece. So for Halloween, when all of Madrid was wandering around in various (terrible) costumes, my friend Ashly and I (hi Ashly!)went to el Cine Dore for an evening of Roman Polanski's classic, hilarious, totally dated film "The Fearless Vampire Hunters". However, something rather odd about el Cine Dore is that, unlike the rest of this country, it always always always starts on time. So when we were five minutes late, well, the rest of the audience stared at us like we had more then one head. Additionally, and maybe quite a bit get's lost in translation, but I have to say, I was one of the only people laughing in the entire theater. I mean, this is a movie that contains a Jewish vampire, sex jokes galore, funny accents, and, to top it all off, an extremely young and hilarious looking Roman Polanski. I mean, how is that not the best thing ever? Seriously.

Getting a drink afterwards with Ashly only highlighted the crazy that is the Spanish interpretation of Halloween. Gazing at the streets filled with terrible costumes and roving gangs of crazies, well, one has to conclude that there are certain things we of the USA really do better then anyone else.

Oh, well. There is always next year...