Hola from Madrid!
We’ve been here just over one week and we’ve settled into our spacious, wonderful apartment. Our “HHE” – government-speak for all of our stuff – probably won’t arrive until sometime in February. Until then, I spend about 50% of my brain power thinking about how I want to decorate the apartment. In between walking around and staring at empty rooms and trolling Etsy, I’ve managed to leave the apartment for reconnaissance of this stately, beautiful, and seemingly very well-organized city. I’ve not even scratched the surface, but I’m just going to go ahead and make my first post as the Dame in Spain about how I can already confirm that everything you’ve heard about Madrid is all 100% true.
Ham is everywhere. But so is cheese. Yes, giant slabs of pig heiny hang from every other shop, bar, and restaurant window. The vast majority of dishes on menus seem to have cured pork as an ingredient. If I don’t understand a word on a menu, I’ll just assume it’s chorizo. Or pancetta. Or bacon. For a vegetarian, the omnipresence of pig will prove to be a challenge. But on the bright side, cheese is nearly just as ubiquitous.
Mr.Dame came home the other day and was like “I found our perfect cozy neighborhood bar.” We went the next night. It has exposed brick, hanging lights, and leather armchairs, and yes, it’s so freakin’ cozy in a masculine and industrial sort of way. I don’t remember the name of it, so I’ve taken to calling it Los Hermanos Guapos on account of the sultry duo that run the place. We ordered a cheese plate and it was epic. Nothing like the paltry teensy pieces of cheese you get at fancy places in the U.S., which are portions more fit for mouse than man and always cost $16.
I’ve discovered a great indoor farmers market in the neighborhood (and it’s open six days a week!) and there’s a friendly cheesemonger hoarding over giant slabs of beautiful cheeses. I need to practice my Spanish cheese adjectives in order to improve our relationship. Also, I’ve gone to a number of grocery stores and their cheese selection is plentiful and cheap. Right now, my fridge is holding manchego (obviously); camenbert; jarlsburg; and a Spanish blue.
I will not be wanting for cheese, unlike in our last post.
People really do eat dinner after 9pm. I sort of assumed this was an exaggeration. Just like how I say my Midwestern parents eat dinner at 6pm ON THE DOT, but really, sometimes they eat dinner at 6:05 or even 6:08. But really, restaurants in our neighborhood are totally empty until around 8:30, and even though, most patrons are probably just enjoying a pre-dinner drink. Here, 10pm is the hot dinner reservation time, much like 8pm is in many parts of the U.S. We’ve started to adapt to this time frame, and it’s been enjoyable (especially for me, because I’m somewhat of a night owl). But it also requires an evening snack, or merienda, at around 5pm to make it to a 9pm dinner. And we’re trying to make the 9pm dinner something relatively small. We’ll save heaping plates of homemade eggplant parmesan for lunch.
No one speaks English. Which is to say I haven’t heard English spoken on the streets since we’ve arrived, save for a pair of English tourists. It’s all Spanish, all the time. Which is perfect for my learning. But it does take a lot of mental power to always be thinking of how to communicate with other people. I’ve had some language lows this week: A total inability to be understood by a cashier at a grocery store when I was asking for sherry, or jerez, a word that contains some tricky sounds. A 30-minute session signing up for a gym, which Mr.Dame handled beautifully, while I sat there like a mute gym rat. When the friendly cheesemonger asked me whether I wanted a Spanish blue cheese or a French one, and I thought he was asking if I spoke Spanish or French, so I replied, “No, English.” Ergh.
The Spanish-speaking highpoints…hmm, well there haven’t been too many. Yet. But I have found that if I start an interaction with Lo siento, mi español no es bueno” (I’m sorry, but my Spanish is not good), people are super nice. Just as any American would be if a foreigner approached them and tried to ask something while explaining they don’t know much English but are learning.
Everything does really shut down during the afternoon. The siesta is a real thing, ya’ll. I don’t know if people are actually going home and sleeping, per se, but I will find out. I tried to go to the farmers market on Wednesday at around 3pm and the streets were deserted and shops were shuttered. Things seemed to re-open back around 5pm.
People are not in a rush to get anywhere. This has been the most striking, but perhaps, most subtle observation of the past week. People walk more slowly here, and just don’t appear to be in a semi-panicked rush as they are in Washington DC and New York. I haven’t seen anyone walking while texting. And everyone actually waits for the crosswalk to turn green even if there is nary a car in sight, which at first I thought meant that Madrileños are extremely law-abiding, but now I think it means they just aren’t in a huge hurry, so why not wait until it’s a little safer to cross? Life is lived more slowly here, which is something I expect to grow to appreciate more and more with each passing day.
Which ties in to my last observation:
In Spain, life is to be lived. I recently read this Design Sponge blog post by a Madrid-based travel writer who said: “Locals often say that the Spanish capital ‘tiene mucha vida’ – literally, Madrid has a lot of life. Nowhere else in Europe are people so devoted to simply enjoying themselves and absorbing the best their city has to offer.”
I haven’t met too many locals yet to know if this axiom is true, although I have no reason to doubt it. And, refreshingly, this way of life seems to be thriving among the Americans here. One of Mr.Dame’s new colleagues, upon hearing that Americans often worked every single day of the week at the embassy in Yemen, said something to the effect of “Who are these people? Don’t they know how to live life?” This guy spends his free time exploring other cities and towns in Spain, biking, and windsurfing. He, and other colleagues, have welcomed us warmly, and they all say some version of the same thing. “Welcome to Madrid! You’re going to love living here.”
Oh, yes, I think we will.
The Dame in Spain