Monday, November 30, 2009

The weirdest two minutes of my life

Charlie and I were completely lost in conversation on the bus ride back to work. It was raining and God knows what we were talking about when all of a sudden a guy sitting ahead of us leapt to the empty seat on the left and spun around to face us.

"So what brings you to Spain?" he asked, with his elbow propped up on the seat and his hand behind his head. I think he was going for "suave" but it just came across as CREEPY. Before we could respond, he pointed at Charlie and said, "You're British." It was all so abrupt and strange that she didn't have the time to process and respond. "And you're American," he said, pointing at me.

The people around us stared. He obviously overheard us speaking English and thought it would be a good idea to introduce himself. I admire a man who takes the initiative but COME ON. There are ways to do this without making a girl feel uneasy (or reach for the pepper spray).

I gathered my wits and told him we taught English at a nearby elementary school (vague, but still an answer). He said he taught as well and that he was an exchange student. To be honest, I don't remember much of what he said after that because my internal thoughts were OMG THIS IS REALLY WEIRD.

Then the bus came to a stop, he quickly said goodbye and got off, leaving us completely stupefied.

It reminded me of the time I was chatting with Erin in a corner of a crowded El Mercado de San Miguel when a bartender walked up to us, asked if we were American and then offered us free drinks because he said he was bored (I kid you not).

Speaking English in Spain? It's sure to get you noticed.

(photo via Bears!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Barcelona: It's not you, it's me

I loved Barcelona. I tried paella and cava for the first time, which is stronger than you would think or maybe I'm just a "very cheap date," like Sarah said.

The palm trees reminded me of LA.

I saw what I had to see. As expected, Gaudi blew me away.

I also had an awesome partner in crime tour guide who thought it would be a good idea to search for a movie theater in the middle of nowhere just so we could watch "New Moon" in English. After an hour of wandering around and asking for directions, we found it and laughed throughout the entire thing, earning the silent wrath of everyone around us. (Glittery vampires are funny. So is crap acting. End of story.)

The rooftop of Casa Batlló, my favorite Gaudi building.

Looking out to Passeig de Gràcia during the audio tour.

I haven't finished uploading all my pictures yet but here are a few.

I bet you if I had a Mini, I would never miss a flight.

I spent my last few hours in Barcelona at this place. It's in Barri Gòtic, the city's Gothic quarter (think dark, narrow and winding streets). Order the chai tea with Baileys. You'll thank me later.

We all need happy pills, every now and then.

I bought this Banksy tote bag in a store near Park Güell. CINCO EUROS, PEOPLE. I love me some cheap Banksy. I used it to carry all the stuff that didn't fit in my bag.


So Barcelona was great and I had a lot of fun BUT...

There's always a but.

I've spent the last couple of days formulating an opinion about Barcelona and I've come to the conclusion that it is a beautiful cosmopolitan city I could never live in.

Queeeeeee, you say? Estas loca! Maybe. But venturing up north was really eye-opening, in many ways. It made me realize just how traditional Madrid really is. I like traditional.

You know what else I like? I like it when waiters at restaurants reply to me in Spanish when I order in Spanish. (I'm looking at you, waiter at Les Quinze Nits who replied in English to my Spanish, repeatedly. SERIOUSLY? IS MY SPANISH NOT SPANISH ENOUGH FOR YOU? OR IS IT BECAUSE I DON'T SPEAK CATALAN? AND WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE KITCHEN CLOSES IN FIVE MINUTES SO WE HAVE TO ORDER NOW?)

Ahem, moving on.

There were moments when riding the metro that I felt like I had stepped into a dark, post-apocalyptic world. It didn't feel like I was in Spain.

As much as I loved it, I kept glancing at my watch on Sunday night. I was aching to get back to Madrid. When I was roused by the pilot who said we would be landing in 10 minutes, I was so happy. I was going home, to the non-scary metro!

The following day, I was waiting for the train home when a woman approached me. I took out my ear buds. She was lost and needed to get to Diego de Leon (Line 6). I told her how to get there from Line 1. As she walked away, I wondered why -- out of all the other people standing on the platform, not listening to music -- she asked me for directions.

I think it's starting to happen. I'm being mistaken for a Madrileña.

Monday, November 23, 2009

You had to be there

In a dark room in Vilafranca del Penedès. It is 1 a.m.

Stephanie: I'm cold.
Raisa: [Mumbles, shuffles out of bed and turns on the lights]

A minute passes.

Raisa appears at the foot of Stephanie's bed, struggling to unfold a thick Jacquard- woven fabric.

Stephanie: [squinting] That's a...curtain.

[There is a pause]

Raisa: [Blinks a couple of times]

[Uproarious laughter]


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Planes, trains and Gaudi

I missed my flight to Barcelona yesterday. It wasn't anyone's fault, really. I was on time but the metro ran late that morning. As it turns out, five minutes can make a huge difference. I arrived at the gate as the plane was pulling away.

It happens.

Out of the handful of people who also missed the 7 a.m. flight, I was the only one who didn't get hysterical or raise her voice. I think I just sighed, freaked out for a second and then asked, "When's the next flight?"

Being calm and polite worked wonders on the Vueling employees. They asked me where I was from ("your last name is SO Spanish!") and gave me tips on how to get to the airport for a morning flight (take a taxi). One of them even wrote my boarding pass, by hand.

While I waited for my flight, I took some pictures of Terminal 4 at Barajas.

As soon as I got there (30-minute flight!), Raya took me to the 9th floor of El Corte Ingles for lunch and the breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

Even with most of the morning lost, I saw Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, Plaza Catalunya, Plaza España (all the pretty fountains!) and Casa Batlló.

Riding the lift was the best part.

Today? Park Güell and Las Ramblas.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

De viaje: Barcelona

I'm spending the weekend in Barcelona. I haven't left Madrid since I got here so it will be nice to be a tourist again. I'm really looking forward to Gaudi, Las Ramblas, paella and the Mediterranean. I don't care how cold it is, I'm going in for a swim.

I'm also excited to see Raya! One of my oldest friends (4th grade, people!), she's the happiest, most sane person I know who gives me giggle fits. The kind where I can't breathe and someone better hold me or else I'M GOING DOWN.

I have 72 hours to see as much as I can. There won't be much sleeping but that's what caffeine is for, right?

p.s. It's going to be hard to walk around the city without at least humming this tune.

(photo via Movie of the Week)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I don't need a Nikon. I have an Erin.

"Don't move."

I froze by the antique mirrors.

Erin adjusted her lens and took the picture.

I love having photography crazy friends because I'm that person who takes pictures and never uploads them.

Luckily for me, I have Erin and her fancy shmancy camera, which she brought to El Rastro on Sunday. She kept apologizing for trailing behind or waiting for the perfect shot.

I had a Dorian Gray connection with this painting. The grumpy old man selling it knocked the price down to 20 euros but the voice of reason told me to walk away. I thought about how my sister would feel about having to haul this back to the States. You're welcome, Jen.

At least I have a picture of it.

(photos by the lovely Erin Birney, who by the way fellas, looks a LOT like Kirsten Dunst. A single, drug-free Kirsten Dunst)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Metro Striptease

There is something truly wondrous about El Rastro before 10 a.m. Stray dogs run about the cobblestone streets as vendors set up their stands for another Sunday. Old men step outside for the day's first cigarette and for some fresh air, which already smells of leather.

But pretty soon, the place is filled with tourists, which is why I left earlier than usual this morning because finding particular stands is a lot harder when you're being elbowed/pushed/trampled.

The metro was pretty empty and I was sleepy but excited about the day ahead. I sat down next to two men, who were speaking English (my guess was that they were Scottish).

At Callao, three men boarded the train. They looked funny. Pretty soon I realized they were drunk. Let me remind you that it was around 9 a.m.

Now, I've dealt with drunks and with metro crazies (I rode the metro on Halloween night), but nothing could've prepared me for what happened next.

One of the men was clearly more drunk than the others. He refused to sit down and he started clapping. Everyone looked at him in disgust or with annoyance. I didn't look at him. I picked a spot on the floor and stared at it. I was only two stops away from La Latina. Ignore, ignore, ignore.

But then he started stripping. RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.

He took off his sweater, swung it a couple of times above his head and let it fall to the ground. He did the same with his shirt. And then he went for his belt.

If he pulls down his pants, I thought, I could easily kick him in the gnads.

Everyone looked on, horrified. I felt everyone staring at me. Part of me wanted to laugh and part of me wanted to die. I kept staring at the floor.

I had two options: I could get up and walk to the door (and give him the satisfaction of knowing he had made me uncomfortable) or ignore, ignore, ignore!

I chose the latter.

The next thing you know, there's a shirtless guy thrusting his pelvis in my direction, roaring and about to fall down. The men next to me shifted uncomfortably in their seats. His friends asked him to sit down and behave. Instead, he started swinging from the handrail and set off a sensor.

As soon as we reached La Latina, I made a beeline for the door. The Scottish men were right behind me.

"It's too early for some people," I said over my shoulder, as the train came to a stop.

"No kidding."

Saturday, November 14, 2009


(photo via songbirds)

I spent most of today wandering around IKEA with Eli. We seemed to forget that we were riding the metro home so we kept throwing things into the cart. Wine glasses! Salad utensils! Pillows! A brand new down comforter! A full-length mirror!

Oh yes we did.

We bought all of that (and MORE) and managed not to break/lose anything on the metro. But the walk from IKEA to the metro stop was a slow one, because Eli was sore from this morning's run.


On the metro, we sat across each other to protect our Swedish goods. We spent the entire ride complaining of hunger and catching yawns from one another.


I remember thinking during my flight to Madrid, what if we don't get along? What if she's weird? I was so tired and nervous when I arrived at Barajas that rainy afternoon, scanning the faces at the gate, looking for someone -- who exactly, I didn't know. I was wearing my blue coat and a scarf, just like I said I would. A girl stared at me long and hard. I thought it was her, until she looked away. Sorry, wrong stranger.

And then I saw a piece of paper with my name on it and the dark-haired girl holding it looked at me and I just knew. I waved and smiled. So did she.

As brain dead as I was, I noticed how surprised she looked. I asked her why a couple of nights later, when we'd stay up until 2 a.m. sharing our life stories with nothing but the light from a reading lamp to illuminate our faces.

She said she was expecting someone entirely different.

"What do you mean, different?"

"You know, like those girls from LA. Paris Hilton, dog-carrying types."


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Momma told me there'd be days like this

(photo via Siebe)

This week was the week from hell, plain and simple. Everything that could've gone wrong, went wrong. To keep a long story short, it involved a field trip gone awry, my first blackout and real bout of insomnia (seriously insomniacs, HOW DO YOU LIVE?). I also worked really late, which led to missing buses and climbing hillsides in the dark to get to the main road. It was so dark I had to use my cellphone to see the bus schedule. I wanteth adventure, Spain giveth.

So when I finally came home today and I saw an Anthropologie package on my bed, I ripped that baby open and slipped into my new dress. That has pockets. And I pranced around the apartment. And then I twittered about it:

And then I opened Photo Booth and stood far enough to take a decent picture and emailed it to my sister.

Just in case you were wondering, this is what it's like to be a girl -- kind of (see: myometrial contractions).


I started working on a post earlier today about the hellish week, teaching and the kids, but as I'm typing this I'm eating Carrefour-bought chocolate in my pajamas and so relieved that tomorrow is Friday because do you know what that means? Sleeping in, waking up lazily around noon, throwing on some clothes and going out for brunch. Kids? What kids?

(p.s. I blogged for EuroCheapo again. I should mention I had swine flu at the time. I will never forget when I woke up that morning, still feverish, and thought, I have to write today. I'm proud of me too.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Transit theory

(photo via Like Neely O'Hara)

I've been up for the past two hours because I couldn't sleep. My alarm just went off which was really surreal. I just stared at it and laughed.

Ever since I arrived in Madrid, I've been keeping a list of all the things I miss about LA. I never thought I'd miss it, but there's a rapidly growing list that proves otherwise.

I miss the clicking of my sister's heels in the hallway, usually followed by a knock at my door. My mother's laugh. My father's furrowed brow that appears only when he's wearing his glasses. Burgers from In 'N' Out. The Sunday LAT. Monday night television. My bed, the same one I've slept in since I was six years old. Wearing only one layer of clothing. DVR-ing "Say Yes to the Dress" and "What Not to Wear." Eating Chinese take-out with Jen on the couch, while watching said shows. Being behind the wheel of my car and driving down the 5 with the windows down, zooming past LA's landscape of palm trees and power lines. KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. I miss that California light, the best light there is. My yellow room filled with books and the creaking of floorboards under my bare feet. I really miss waking up in that room.

Lucas told me the other day his theory about foreigners and traveling. He said that once you live somewhere else, you'll never quite be home again. I asked him to explain this rather grim theory of his. He used me as an example. "When you're here, you're constantly talking about how it is back home. But when you go back home, you'll talk about how life is in Spain. You'll always be in transit."

I wonder if Lucas has seen "Garden State."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The perks of having a British co-worker

Charlie told me I should check out Michael McIntyre if I liked British humor. I spent most of Friday night wiping tears from my face.

(Also, Charlie's boyfriend Sam brought me Jaffa Cakes and Marmite from London. He's definitely a keeper, that boy.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Table for one

I've been feeling odd lately. There is a distinct difference between pre-Swine flu me and post-Swine flu me. Maybe it was being so far away from home that brought on the homesickness and living abroad blues. Or the sudden decrease in temperature. I'm trying my best to shake it off but it's really hard when it's 12 degrees Celsius in Madrid and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in LA.

So after picking up my NIE yesterday (My friend Erin says I look very Tina Fey-ish in my picture. I hope airport guards won't be disappointed when they see me in the flesh. Y TUS LENTES?!) I headed over to Living in London for some quiet alone time.

Living in London is a small tea house that is a couple of blocks away from my apartment. Yes, it's the kind of darling place your grandmother would like but the wallpaper, cushions and peonies in the window truly make it a cheery and cozy place. The only thing missing is a working fireplace. Maybe even a Colin Firth doppelganger waiter, but I'll leave that for management to decide.

I was unaware of it existence until Debbie made the terrible decision to take me there last week. I say terrible because among the many amazing things on the menu, they have scones with clotted cream and jam and... CADBURY HOT CHOCOLATE. IN A GIANT MUG AS BIG AS YOUR FACE. TOPPED WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND SPRINKLES.


I was the only person sitting there alone. I read my book, did some writing, stuffed my face with finger sandwiches, scones and a side of quality eavesdropping (the pregnant Spanish businesswoman next to me jumped from petrol to fashion and then back to petrol).

It was just what I needed. I also cooked a three-course meal yesterday and nearly burned down the apartment, but that's a whole other post.

- I'm going to Barcelona in two weeks and I'll be in Paris the first weekend in December. Any suggestions are welcome!

- The Sartorialist is coming to Madrid! I'm definitely going but I don't know what to wear...

- I had my first Guinness in Las Ventas during Oktoberfest last week. It was really frothy and just as filling as a proper meal.

In fact, when this picture was taken, I think I was suppressing a burp.

(photos courtesy of my favorite Finnish person, Johanna)
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