Archive for January, 2009

London was better than I expected this time around. Last time I was there I had such hassles at immigration and getting into the city and paying for travel when I was there that I was pretty much turned off by the whole idea of London. Now having been there twice and thus it all being a little more familiar, getting used to traveling on the tube and meeting a ton of really cool people on the Tweed Run has really helped improve my outlook.

I’ve found another friend in London, a cool chick who I will definitely delight in learning more about, she’s an artist, will take me under her wing and introduce me to more chicks in London. Her boyfriend wants to cook for the boyfriend and me, apparently he’s an amazing cook, I’m truly looking forward to returning to London in a week’s time. Someone else wants to cook carnitas for us, a Texan, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve been craving Mexican food lately. That and good Chinese food, both of which are sorely underrepresented in Madrid. I might have to learn how to cook Mexican food just so I can have it any time I like. First step: enchiladas suizas. Seriously. And tomatillo sauce. And, and, and I need a molcajete. (I might give up italicizing Spanish terms from now on, it’s beginning to feel a little too too.)

The Tweed Run was amazing, something ridiculous like 140 people, all in varying states of tweedy old-fashioned fancy dress goodness, all riding bikes around 22.5 miles of London’s streets. Everyone was so very nice, there was only a minimal amount of the hipsterness that had I expected coming from a fixed gear forum’s members, people shared liberally of enjoyable chat and whiskey. I made sure to nip rather than guzzle even though it was rather a slow circuit. People on the street were on the whole very receptive to the idea, taking photos, asking questions, calling out encouragement; I wonder how much our attire figured in there. Few jerks in cars, mostly drivers were very respectful. There was a heightened police presence due to protests for Palestine, which was a surprise, and definitely aided us in staying safe and slowing down motorists.

This time I finally got used to keeping my Oyster card handy so that I could tap it on the indicator upon both entry and exit of the tubes, and after days finally got used to looking right, then left then right. However, it will never cease to amaze me that you can park any which way you please, which completely does me in for quick visual cues of which way the street goes. No one way signs in London, leastways I didn’t see any. Also, the light can be green but the walk sign won’t, so all of my hard-won visual cues while biking in the city are just about null and void and I will have to get used to a new system.

Speaking of getting used to new systems, as soon as I got used to London, I had to return to Madrid. Spanish and pressing buttons when I want to leave the metro but no need for that card upon exiting the station. Wish me luck, I go back in a week!

In the meantime, I promise myself to buy a few essential sewing supplies and getting out of my funk of boredom by just doing it and messing around with learning to hand sew. Goal – pin tucks. I want to do some ridiculously time-consuming bodice front and will practice on scraps I will beg off my girl of the lobster fabric since she’s sending me stuff anyway.

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I’m going to England tomorrow! I have to get up at 5 a.m. to make the flight! I’m bringing nothing but a carry-all bag! I can’t wait! This Saturday there is going to be a massive social ride (that means a planned bike route that isn’t a race) in London, I believe it’s sponsored, and is being co-run by a regularly tweedy group of London riders. Tweed Club? Yes, I think that’s it. Unfortunately, I have barely anything that would be considered acceptable wear, it’s down to tomorrow to scour thrift stores for woolen plus fours, harris tweed jackets, flat caps, fair isle jumpers, alpaca coats, merino wool team jerseys, cycling skirts and perhaps a jaunty cape for the ladies, cravats or ties for gentlemen, and of course a hip flask of brandy. Granted, we will find the brandy somewhere other than the thrift stores.

Does anyone know what in the world a fair isle jumper is? Oh, wait, jumper=sweater in England. That reminds me that I left a sweater behind with the boyfriend that I think will do nicely! I’m going as a boy, I can’t be bothered to spruce it up lady-style. Although maybe it would be fun to wear a cycling skirt, whatever that looks like. Perhaps next year.

Today I’m after alfajores to bring to England, porras y chocolate to eat in Spain, and perhaps that elusive pair of argyle knee socks which will match my cap and my sweater. Do I need to match? Maybe if I have every single item of clothing mis-matched I’ll win one of the prizes. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to be a thin female, when you like to wear boy clothes is one of them. I can’t find any clothes in thrift stores that fit me, nothing fits because no one’s gotten A, nor will they ever get T, so I end up squashed into a tiny little button-up that gapes at the front. I suppose I’m the only one complaining about that. Eventually I’ll need to get fitted for real clothes at a real store selling clothes to real boys.

Returning to Spain on January 28th, I then turn around and go back a scant week later, for a week. When I return that time, I have vague plans to go see Lisbon with my American friend. As always, check back for updates!

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It’s winter, off and on hovering around the lower 30s, and I’ve fallen ill. Sore throat, stuffy nose, dry lips, general malaise. Well, I suppose I can be grateful that it’s the first time I’ve been sick in many months, but I don’t want to stay in the apartment all day. Too bad, it seems like that’s where I’ll be. Good thing I have a store of movies to watch.

Must get groceries, must look for Asturianas, a brand of milk my new American friend determined is the most “normal tasting” to American tastebuds, after extensive taste testing his first year here. I couldn’t figure out what was up with the milk, why it seemed like 90% of milk here was boxed milk, and why all of it seemed to taste like powdered milk. It turns out that they boil the heck out of milk here, to kill off all the bacteria that makes it turn, so it can be stored indefinitely in boxes. Why they do that is still a mystery to me. But that, combined with the fact that I can barely find any cereal not containing insane amounts of sugar has caused me to not look very far for better tasting milk. I do need peanut butter, though, and I’ve been told I can find Skippy at the Corte Ingles at the Argüelles stop. I’ll have to check this out soon.

(My preferred peanut butter has less sugar & hydrog oils, so please please please someone send me some natural peanut butter! Kick start peanut butter, the kind you gotta mix up first!!) (Oh, and some flat floss.) (And some Cheetos.)

The one and only trip today outside the house that I foresee is to the grocery store. I also need to buy a light bulb, mine burnt out. I feel like this happens to me a lot with light bulbs. Does anyone else have that happen or am I just being egocentric?

What I find craziest about getting sick this time is that it seemed to happen all at once. Instead of a suspicious tickle at the back of my throat for days on end, I suddenly felt a bit hot, then had a tickle, then a full-blown sore throat within hours.

My Swedish Institute buddies, those of you still in school, those of you in the medical field, or you geeks who remember this stuff, help my poor ill brain remember what the word is for “onset of symptoms”, please!


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Last Friday I had my first proper outing, Spanish style. My roommate invited me out to meet a few of her friends at a bar near Puerta del Sol, a cute little joint whose bar was positively lined with jarras of sangria ready to be slurped down by those brave enough to venture out in the snow. Yes, that’s right, I said snow! It’s snowed in Madrid, and surprisingly as far south as Málaga, several times in the past week.

The snow was fodder enough for the beginning of the conversation. I was able to follow most of what was being said but there were times when I’d fade out, exhausted from the effort, only to drift back in, now able to understand, but with no concept of the subject at hand. But this is what I gathered over the evening: conversations everywhere are exactly the same. We talked about the weather, we bitched about traffic, we discussed politics, and we laughed. The highlight of the night for me was realizing that about 80% of the time that I contributed, no one looked at me like I was talking like I was from Mars. I got nearly all my points across, even in semi-complicated topics, and was well pleased.

Next stop, a smaller bar in the area that I’d never seen on a street I didn’t remember, in an area the boyfriend and I had traipsed through millions of times but must have kept to the same few tracks. 5€ mojitos were the boast of the bar but I was much happier seeing the shiny silver bowl of maíz frito (corn nuts!) sitting out, pretty as you please.

And even more so by what turned out to be a necklace of felt poppies worn by another bar patron and made by her grandmother.

Going out at 8:30 p.m. is fabulous. You can have four hours of drankin’, snackin’ & chattin’ and still be home before the metro closes for the night. Must do it again soon.

Oh, right. Central and North Americans: apparently a sizeable population of Spain thinks that México is part of North America. What say you? Apparently there is no definitive answer to this debate.

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On Saturday I visited the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a private museum in Madrid that displays the holdings principally of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, at the neoclassical Palacio Villahermosa across the street from the Prado. Recently the acquisitions of his Spanish wife, Carmen, have also been added to the collection, resulting in several new wings being built.

I mainly ignored the guide, thinking there was no special layout to the museum beyond different epochs belonging to different wings or floors, but I noticed that I was heading in a circuitous route through time by my chosen tour through the museum. Starting with the permanent collection and moving through Carmen’s added section, I went from 17th century Italy and Holland through wan, thin French folk, into the lovely light-infused, remarkably shadowed Impressionist period and then back again. The holdings are impressive, vale la pena, yet while I would love to go back as often as I wished, the 6€ ticket price is a bit steep and there are no free or reduced entry times. I am sure I will return again, however.

When looking at art, I like to get right up on the canvas, seeing whether brush strokes are visible or not, and then stand back quite a bit and mark the difference in the view. The styles of Caravaggio and the Dutch masters of the 1600s look like cartoons when viewed close up, but if you step back, you can see (for example) the rosy flush of drink on the face of a violinist “merrily” toasting someone out of view, his lower social standing evident in the clothes slumped off one pale shoulder.

Dutch interiors circa the 1660s all seem to focus on the corner of a room with a window on the left and tapestries, maps or other rich ornamentation placed around the subjects, who are often playing musical instruments. De Hooch, Vermeer, Maes. The Flemish and the Dutch are also extremely well-known for their exceptional still lives, of which I never seem to get tired. But who was buying these paintings in the 1600s? How much did they cost? Was it the burghers or were the patrons of slightly higher standing?

One thing I notice about museums here that I haven’t noticed elsewhere is that often the birth city and death city of the artist are printed on the cards for each painting, and I meant to look up – was John Singer Sargent born in Florence? Yes, indeed he was, to American ex-patriot parents. His early life was a constant whir of travel which explains why he remained, essentially, an ex-patriot to the end. And, noting one painting by William Merritt Chase, I thought, “Hmm..1895, was that before he started using his graphic?” only to realize after researching when I returned home that that was Henry McNeil Whistler. I should be forgiven, as his mark resembles a W and both have prominent Ws in their names and similar styles, being contemporaries in Impressionism.

Turn a corner, spot a piece, jealously guard it for last – it looks like it might be a Schiele, but I am surprised in turn and discover it to be one of this lovely lady by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The only Schiele in the collection was on loan for another week or so. I wish I could have found a better photo on the internets of the Tolouse-Lautrec but I am finding more and more that it’s nearly worthless to view a painting in photos except to conjure reminders of what has already been seen in person. How do art students who go to schools nowhere near major art museums cope?

My favorite thing about going to new museums is not only finding art by artists whose work I feel I know intimately, but art by artists I’ve never heard of. It’s not that I have some rarefied, extensive knowledge of art, rather I got a decent layman’s art education by working as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan for a year, pumping my fine arts degree gettin’ friends for info and clarification and testing stylistic connections I’d made. So it was a great pleasure to come upon unexpected watercolors by Moreau and Prendergast and a gorgeous O’Keefe, sin floras, entitled New York with Moon.

Moving on, we find the awesome, weirdo Austrians, and Germans, and some Frenchies. Around the early 1900s, artists like Braque, Camoin and Vlamenck all seemed to have created works while sitting at the feet of Cézanne. As I grew up, I expected to have basically one job, or at least one kind of job for the majority of my working life. This has not been the case, but the expectation is still there, and it makes me so happy to see artists from the 1880s and later, who had whole sea changes over and over again in the direction their art took. Life appeared so open for them, and whether or not it actually was, we can still content ourselves with the sensation aroused by looking at their oeuvres.

As always, I visited the museum shop, and desperately wanted a few items, but they were indeed not vale la pena and I let them be.

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When I first arrived in Madrid, I couldn’t tell whether it was my level of Spanish that was lacking or if the Castellano lisp was flying over my head. I determined to learn the lisp so Madrileños wouldn’t say, “Ey?” and I wouldn’t return the same to them. I’ve been trying hard, possibly too hard: sometimes I end up having a real lisp, putting that softness on ess sounds as well. One could definitely say that I have a horrific transatlantic accent (that line is stolen from a book, guess which one and win a prize TBD) and it needs to be fixed, pronto.

I had planned to go to a language school yesterday to talk to them about their intensive classes, which I can take for four weeks (20 hours per week) at a price of 580€, cheaper by about 130€ than others, which is both great and possibly worrying. It is my hope to try a class before committing, to that end I called the school on Saturday but they weren’t open. Because I’ve taken this kind of class before, I’ll basically know what to look for even though of course, all teachers are different. So I guess I have to wait another week to start classes, that’s fine, I’ll look for work this week and try to sit in on a class during the week sometime.

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Well, having your loved one with you in another country is a sure-fire way to ignore everything you don’t want to think about and to spend all your time looking at neat stuff you’ve never seen before. Two and a half weeks flew by and the boyfriend went back to England last night. What do I do now? Why, get a job, of course! I have two conflicting issues in my search for work.

First, I know I understand Spanish decently, but I become absolutely flummoxed when confronted with the majority of the Madrileńos I encounter. My proficiency breaks down relatively early in a conversation and while that’s not necessarily a problem in everyday life, just an annoyance, I worry about whether employers will take the chance on sponsoring me without a better grasp of the language. So I’ve thought about taking a month-long intensive course here in Madrid. I found a place that is much cheaper than others, which is both a boon and something to be questioned, and can afford not only to spend the next three months here, but pay all my bills and still have several months’ income available afterward, should I not find work within that time.

Second, what if I don’t find work within that time? I don’t want to go back, so I’ve thought about how long to give myself here in Madrid before high-tailing it to another city and trying again. A month is the time I can come up with. I need to find work within a month, or at least I need to have exhausted all options of employment here in Madrid that I can find, before trying another city.

Do you see the rub? A month of classes would make me more marketable but I want to find work within a month. Over and over again, what I need to remind myself of is that I have done the math and I know how much money I have and what my expenses are and how long I can stay in Spain even while having enough to start over again in NYC, should it come to that, even if I don’t find work. And that number is somewhere around 5 or 6 months.

So buck up! Do what you gotta do! Find work while taking that intensive course! It gets out early enough in the day that I can still canvas the city looking for the ever-elusive euro.

It’s for real real snowing in Madrid! I need to find some gloves I like!

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