International Writers Magazine: From
Elaheh's Blog on Spain
In Madrid, the
first day A stranger walking in your skin, through the calles, the
streets of this beautiful, beating town.
Women and men observe each other, every move and gesture, every
smile. They look at your shoes, your hair and your eyes. I like
Today, I became
a stranger and walked through the streets of Madrid, searching for nothing.
I looked around, lost and content with not mattering to anyone or anything.
And the Madrilenos watched as I made my way in and out of the metro
stations. I found Mueseo de Prado by accident. I followed a sign; I
was bored. Then I found a movie theater, Cinema ideal and asked what
I could watch at that precise hour. Death at a Funeral, an English movie.
I made sure to read every subtitle line for I had come to learn. I hit
the supermarket, the one I found accidentally as I was lost, looking
for my house. I wanted to buy apples, but for some reason the cashier
didn't accept them. I didn't understand what the problem was, but I
assumed that, like Belgium, I probably needed to put a price sticker
on the plastic bag. I wanted those apples
Senora Fidalgo is sweet. She is a lovable lady of class. She smells
good and dresses nicely. She practices speaking with me and asks if
I want dinner.
In Spain, the afternoon starts after 3. One is still morning. So my
breakfast is until 11, dinner at 8:30. I was served cereal, grapes,
coffee, lemonade and toast today.
I have a new set of keys for my new house in Madrid. I live with Senora
Ana Fidalgo, her 16-year old daughter, and my new roommate Becca. Senora
cooks dinner and prepares my breakfast: cereal, toast with marmalade,
coffee, juice, and a sweet pastry. She has dirty blond hair and blue
eyes. She is fascinated by my love for movies and cinema and writing.
Sometimes, during dinner, we talk about Iran or how Americans are different
from the Spaniards. We don't always agree, but we somehow understand
each other. I speak in broken Spanish and she throws in a few English
phrases with her thick accent, laughing amusingly afterwards. After
she offers me fruit, I say thank you and go off to my little room.
I ride the metro everyday, following signs and arrows, walking fast,
my eyes wandering like a common tourist. The Spanish like to observe.
They look at my shoes, my hair. Unlike Americans, they don't normally
smile as you walk by.
A week has already passed. I no longer have trouble with my keys-during
the first few days of my arrival I had trouble opening the door on multiple
occasions, one including a late night return and waking up the Senora,
which was evidently an embarrassment. And I no longer have to ask the
Spaniards where Calle Hernani, my street, is. I follow visual signs
that I've made for myself and take the same route home. I get off the
metro at Cuatro Caminos, make a left, cross the street, walk down a
couple of blocks, turn left to where there is a huge poster of Penelope
Cruz with bright red lipstick above on my left, walk straight to where
there is a Starbucks and H&M, turn left and there is Hernani 57.
Sometimes I stop by Carrefour, the supermarket near my house by the
McDonalds and buy bread and water. The more I go, the more confident
I feel. I now know that I have to weigh fruits and put a price sticker
on them, that there are two different kinds of baskets and carts, baskets
on wheels, normal ones and carts that require money. I also have a good
idea of where most things are, which makes me look less like a foreigner.
There are times where middle-aged, old men stare at me openly, turning
their heads as I pass through people on the sidewalk. I anticipate this
everywhere, for here in Spain glaring is a norm. I have found interesting
styles of fashion: women with bright red hair (yesterday I met one with
blue hair, I kid you not). I have also seen old ladies with fancy fur
The food in Mardid has been nothing but delicious. Paellas, tortillas,
Churros (sweets), coffee and salads are among the many. Because the
Euro is expensive and our school fee doesn't cover lunch, we try to
save, so our lunches are sometimes bread and cheese, or in my case,
bread and honey!
I wake up at 7:40 and make it to school by 9:00, thirty minutes before
classes start. I have a hard time deciding what to wear, for in Spain
people dress up. The weather has been a gloomy at times, but Madrid
is normally a sunny city.
There is nothing more beautiful than waking up in a strange place, without
words or your usual thoughts and worries, walking for what seems like
miles and finding yourself in the middle of Madrilenos who read their
papers and books on the metro. What's more fascinating is that everyday
you are becoming something else, a fusion of everything you ever imagined
or nothing you ever thought possible. You wake up in
a dream and no one recognizes you and you are obligated to nothing and
no one. It's like this: You are 20 years old and you feel like your
life has just started.
Madrid is sunny today and I smile as I make my way home. I can't hide
the smile that is forming on my mouth, the smile of contentment. I have
been challenged and feel like I'm finally faced with something completely
different, strange, scary and beautiful. I feel pretty and misunderstood
and lost and happy all at once. My head has been spinning, translating
word-to-word, sentence-by-sentence, sometimes forgetting everything.
I wake up and there are so many words in my head that I forget where
The sun here hides behind buildings, once in a while reappearing when
no one is watching. I miss nothing of who I was and what I did before
I left. I simply want to keep walking in the calles and watch the Madrilenos
who watch me.
What happens on the streets, on the sidewalks, and everywhere else happens
with a certain degree of calmness and tranquility. No one rushes or
gets in line to go. No one sips coffee while walking to work. People
like to sit, take their time, have coffee breaks and enjoy life, sun,
a bit of gossip. Madrilenos are not punctual; time has a different concept
to them. As I wait, early as always, they arrive slowly, talking in
their sweet, thick accents. Inside the metro, I never worry, never get
nervous. Those around me are peaceful, relaxing with music or the day's
paper, or talking quietly. There are times that musicians aboard the
train and play a three minute song, get their donations and give thanks
before hopping to the next train.
Drinking coffee is a pleasure, a custom of every true Madrileno. One
is never served with a plastic cup. Everything is elegant, prepared
and warmed. If one asks for coffee with milk, the milk is heated an
extra time if one wishes.
I missed nothing today and liked being an extranjero, a stranger
sometimes you understand yourself better when no one else does.
This is my sweet dream
and I like to keep dreaming.
I meet a lot of people on the metro. People who only gaze at you once,
and move on, hopping off to another train. People who hope to read you
in what little time they have.
I met a man once, a Spaniard. He was about 28 years old, with a scar
on his mysterious face, tired eyes, rough, worked hands. He had a ring
on his finger, but not a wedding ring. His eyes were searching for something.
He wasn't an ordinary man, but one of interest, personality, a wounded
soul. A man who was not easy to read, who had suffered something deep,
something that had left him fatigued, scarred within. I watched him
as he got off, walking away to the right, gone forever. I would have
liked a moment to see him again, even to talk in what little I knew.
But he was gone, his scar forever in my memory.
Everyday, I encounter the oddest, most peculiar faces. I like to listen
sometimes, just to hear the sound of their voices, the pitch of their
accents, the movement of their lips. I like to see what makes them interesting,
what makes them so out of the ordinary, so foreign and impenetrable.
Inside the metro, outside under the sun of Madrid, inside the bars and
restaurants and clubs, on the sidewalks and inside dense underground
Today I meet Mercedes, my Spanish exchange partner. She is in her mid-twenty's,
brunette, with a beautiful accent, pink lipstick and a cigarette. She
has been a smoker for six years and wants to quit but only when she
is ready. She is an actress, playing parts in theater, hoping to get
a part in television. Her boyfriend of four years is in Barcelona. This
is her longest relationship so far. Mercedes is a coffee addict like
myself so we walk to SOL and find a quiet, tranquil spot outside under
the sun, order two café con leches and talk. We have divided
the time to talk both in English and Spanish, for she too is trying
to learn English. We both love the city, but for different reasons.
I decide that she is a true Spaniard who loves cinema, coffee, beer,
theater, fiestas and all that Madrid offers.
We part ways and I walk back home, content, tired, sleepy, but no longer
lost. I once again realize that I have made the best decision of my
life, that I have done something extreme and grand. I get off my stop,
go up and around, leave the metro station, pass by Penelope's beautiful
poster on the big brick wall and take out my keys. And the sun starts
to disappear behind the towers of Madrid.
She takes a puff of the cigarette she bought a few minutes ago, exhales
and a gush of smoke flows in my direction, diluting the space between
us. This bar is dingy, but decorated with a bit of jazz and a colorful
wall of art, a shelf of alcohol. Mercedes orders two coffees with milk.
While we wait, she talks about her job, teaching theater to young kids
and teens. She says the children surprise her with their talents and
that they are easier to work because they are forward, open and honest.
Today she is wearing a black hat, pink lipstick and boots. We walk up
hill to a quiet, clam part of the town where there are small pubs and
little stores, antiques and second-hands. This is her favorite barrio
because of its narrow streets and tranquil atmosphere. Mercedes says
that I understand her very well and that my Spanish isn't bad. I tell
her that I would like to know more Spaniards. She says that I can go
out with her friends one night.
"My friends get drunk all the time," she adds, laughing.
"The better. I like drinking," I smile as I reassure her.
We talk about cinema, Almodovar, Julio Medem. She pulls out a film magazine
so I can decide what we should see one day. Mercedes wants to study
in London but is worried about her English. I tell her not to worry,
that she is doing fine and will learn in no time.
She takes me to the metro and then we part. The city is gloomy, cold,
and yet still full of vibe. The madrilenos are still rushing to get
around, and I am now a part of all. I am now a part of the evening rush,
the nocturnal sky, the crowded sidewalks, the bricked buildings, the
gust that comes after the metro trains, the maddening smoke that the
man next to me exhales. I am alone, yet again, writing, but I feel guarded,
secure, like they have accepted me as the strange creature that bears
the same physique and yet is lost for words. I now order my coffee with
more confidence. I walk faster and rarely stop to look. And I want to
get to know them. I want to ask them. I want to remember them.
This is the life in the heart of Madrid, where you can stay up until
6, while it's still dark, the streets still tainted by cigars and beer
bottles, shattered glass and garbage. You can stop for Churros after
a night of clubbing and drinking at 5 am. Then you can catch the train
at 6 when it opens again and walk home, watching Spaniards make out
in the corners, still drunk, still wasted. You can be a part of everything
and experience what you will never experience again the same way. You
can blend in, learn a new route and go on forward...
I suddenly miss talking. I miss talking about how I feel about being
intertwined in this crazy, loud, outrageous city. I want to talk about
how I am constantly trying to form sentences in Spanish, and how I feel
like I understand so much more but that I still lack words, still don't
have time to conjugate verbs. I want to wander around the city before
it's time for me to part, but am always sleepy and tired from class,
always starving, always thinking of coffee to save me. I miss the sunny
days, the first few weeks when everything was new, every sangria tasted
different, every word prettier...I feel nostalgia even for that first
day when I cried on the phone, hopelessly lost in contentment, when
I ordered a cup of tea outside a cafe and had no idea where I would
go next. Isn't it funny to feel nostalgia when you are content, when
you have just begun something, when you are still inside a dream?
I have evolved. I feel strangely optimistic for the future. Despite
my love for Spain and this new form of independence, I feel that I am
able to go back and not suffer in misery. I like this transformation.
Here in Spain, I am always happy. Surly, there are dry days, routines,
homework, boring classes, and too much Spanish, but in the end, I like
it. I greet the security and the doormen as I enter and leave the building
and they greet me back, sometimes asking how I am doing, how my Spanish
is. I turn the keys with full confidence, knowing that they will always
work. I have made visual memory of important places I go so that I don't
get lost. And overall I am satisfied, really satisfied with being a
stranger. I sometimes relish the fact that men call out "guapa"
as I walk hurriedly by, completely ignoring them, or that people begin
to speak Spanish to me because they can't tell where I'm from.
Tonight, Senora and I talked about my past a little bit, about my first
visit to Europe when I was 11, about the rotten school system in Iran
and how as a child I was always afraid to speak up because I was taught
to keep my mouth shut. That to this day I don't like to comment out
loud, or to express my opinion verbally. That I still don't like to
make mistakes. I told her that sometimes I forget I lived that life.
I felt good about this talk, felt good that I was challenged to think
rapidly in Spanish to recount the past to a woman who's known me for
no more than two months. And now I am writing to say I miss talking.
But the nostalgia will never go away. It's like that feeling you get
when you are in a bus, going home after a short trip to a new place,
the feeling of loss as you watch images behind the window as the bus
moves. That bittersweet feeling of what you saw and felt, but what you
then lost in a moment of transit...
Madrid and I
I spent the weekend alone, for the first time it was just me and the
streets of Madrid. Madrid and I have a lot in common. We like the sun.
We lust coffee and ice-cream and sun dresses. We admire gorgeous women
and handsome gentlemen. And we like walking without destination, without
So I walked around and discovered new places. I had coffee in the middle
of the afternoon before lunch and then later sat on the grass amongst
others and the wind blew in my face and my hair became tangled. I laid
on my back and closed my eyes and when I opened them again I knew I
was in the happiest state of being, I was content with everything around
me and everything about myself. I watched the people around me, drinking
beer, smoking a pipe, with their music or a book on their lap. I sat
by the little fountain and the wind became stronger so then I decided
to go home. I got home at 7 and had dinner with Senora and her boyfriend
and we talked about Iran and the Shah and the revolution and the war
and everything that was wrong with the world. Then I saw Cruel Intentions
in Spanish and fell in love with Ryan Phillipe all over again and downloaded
the bittersweet symphony soundtrack and have been listening to it since.
Today I walked around my house, but crossed over to the opposite side
so I could see what's on the other side. I passed a little playground,
which I never knew existed. On my way back I craved ice-cream so I got
one from McDonalds for 75 cents and enjoyed it under the sun. I then
tried on a dress from Mango and felt quite amazing and then left without
buying it, which made me a bit sad. None of my friends are available
today and I haven't spoken to anyone in three days and I am so ready
to get on my plane to Brussels and just sleep.
I have gotten used to Madrid now and although that initial spark of
lust is somewhat lost, I still love it everyday when I wake up and know
that it is mine and that I can come back one day and start all over
again. Sometimes you live a different life and you realize you can do
more than you thought you could. You realize the world is bigger and
there are more people to meet and you are inspired to change not for
others but for yourself. You get a set of keys and a new room and you
speak a language that isn't yours and yet you feel entitled to it. You
miss a little of what you left back home but then you enjoy the new
and the bizarre and you live in the moment and make sense out of it.
Then you get used to it and it becomes natural and amazing and beautiful
and you don't want to leave.
And that's what I've come to realize.
The skies in Madrid are darker now, more solemn, perhaps a bit tinted.
The sun plays hide and seek and the winds come with more fluidity. I
am spending my last days here, leaving in a month, which will happen
faster than I can keep count of. I am still content with my cup of coffee,
with my Senora's beautiful smile and her sweet tongue. We have been
talking more, eating dinner together, commenting on the weather, the
food, the ways you can cook tortilla with or without cebolla, onion.
Her mother, she says, is the only person who doesn't like tortilla with
onions because the whole world does. We talk about sangria and how too
much of it can upset your stomach. She asks how I feel, how I like the
classes, how I sleep. At dinner yesterday, she asked if I were thinking
or if I were preoccupied with something.
And I have been thinking, about returning, about what I am returning
to. I miss home. I can finally say it. But there are always these questions:
what I am to do when I get back? What have I learned about the person
I was and the person I am now after having lived alone for four months?
I struggle to find the right words, but I only manage to say that perhaps
I have had too much to eat and need to rest a bit. She smiles and understands,
then offers to let me watch some television. This morning she asked
if I were feeling better and was glad to hear that I were.
These are the things I am going to miss. The way this room smells, the
sound of pots and pans clinging outside of my window from the other
apartments, the smell of her kitchen and the taste of every food, the
morning coffee the minute after it is done, the moments after when she
walks in hurriedly to the sink, then says hasta luego, see you later
and closes the door behind her, the way her green eyes lit up when I
tell her something unbelievable and surprising, the way she laughs after
the interesting things I tell or simply for the way I say them.
"Pues, nada, al fin...", is what my senora says after every
dinner, when we have said all there was to say, when we are tired and
ready for bed, and the food has settled in and it is time for us to
an English major at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
She is 20 years old, studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. A writer and
has a blog called (www.bluebirdescape.com)
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