(Friday, January 29 to Sunday, January 31)
Featuring visits to Arabic baths, the Cathedral of Granada, a flamenco dance performance, and the Alhambra, a complex of fortresses and palaces built throughout the Middle Ages.
(Friday, January 29 to Sunday, January 31)
This upcoming Monday marks my third full week in Madrid. And as the honeymoon phase wanes, the homesickness waxes. Let me be clear: Madrid still enchants me, and it won’t ever stop. But there are some grievances that I need to address. Most importantly: How much I miss American bacon.
This is serious. On more than one occasion, I have walked the bustling streets of Madrid, glanced the word “bacon” on a diner window, and clamored to the counter to try it —only for the disappointment of basically thinly sliced ham. Not crispy, lean American bacon. Just marbled ham.
I need a moment. To wipe my tears.
The Spanish pork industry is massive. Spaniards eat as much meat as Americans but with a strong preference for pork. All cuts, especially as thin filets. Stores exist that sell nothing but pork products, with pig legs (literally pre-cut, still hoofed and hairy pig legs) hanging in the windows. And the Spanish language has produced a word exclusively for them: jamonerías (roughly translated, “ham stores”).
But there’s no American bacon.
I’m getting desperate.
Despite their meat consumption, though, Madrileños are beautifully fit. Impossibly fit. Dumbfoundingly fit. How do they do it?! They eat five meals per day! Breakfast, large snack, enormous lunch, modest dinner, tapas late at night. Is it the lack of processed sugar?! Is there a fountain of eternal thinness? On top of that, the past hundred years of limited immigration, in-breeding, and sexual selection has produced the most attractive (consistently, naturally attractive) people on the planet. Gods and goddesses of man.
But back on point: food.
Spanish breakfasts are simple. No bacon and eggs (actually, eggs are rare here), no waffles or pancakes, instead just coffee and fruit or pan de leche (sweet bread). The coffee isn’t drip-brewed either, rather espresso. My host mother maintains an entire pot of espresso, permanently waiting on the stovetop. You just take a shot or two, add milk, and microwave it. And although their national patriotism is subtle, Spaniards are aggressively patriotic about their coffee. Whenever I tell someone I’m American, their first comment to me is frequently: Your coffee is terrible.
“Hola, I’m Nolan. I’m American.”
“Your coffee sucks.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
Then they say something about weak, dark water.
Nobody walks around with coffee either. Or food, for that matter. In the States, every morning hater walks to work or class with Starbucks or muffin in hand (and then consumes it in class). Not here. And despite their lack of any coffee-walking balancing act, Madrileños walk frustratingly slow. As a fast-paced American, I have places to be! Things to do! How are you so slow?! The pace of life is slower all around.
(That said, and my host mother confirmed this, when an American shoves you out of way, they apologize, albeit insincerely; in the unlikely event you’re slower than a Madrileño, they just shove. At this rest stop yesterday, an older woman apparently couldn’t walk around me, so she stiff-armed my stomach to hunt down potato chips.)
Whenever I’m trapped behind slow walkers, though, I do have the opportunity to people watch. Staring is culturally acceptable, so I analyze everyone. Once again, I’ll emphasize their astounding attractiveness. But compared with Americans, Spaniards’ faces are also softer. Less tense. As if their relaxed lives manifest in their facial muscles. Maybe the culture is warmer and more welcoming, maybe it’s the aggressive in-breeding —I don’t know. But whenever my eyes meet someone else’s on Gran Vía, a popular shopping avenue, they seem happier. More satisfied with life. More so than busy Americans. Their faces soften. Maybe that’s what’s so beautiful.
Before closing out, I’ll offer one last choque: sexual slang. That’s right. Sexual slang. My vocabulary is very Latin American, with a Mexican bend, due to my educational background. In Spain, many words have different meanings. For example, here the verb “coger” means “to grab” something: something you’ve dropped, answering a telephone, whatever. But in Mexico —and this is seriously the definition I knew before arriving— it means to f***. Vulgar connotation and all. You can imagine my bewilderment when my host mother told me to f*** the telephone and then f*** the silverware while setting up dinner.
Another: “Leche” is milk. It means milk worldwide. But an online admirer recently suggested that we lie together in bed and drink milk. Which confused me to no end. Why would we drink milk in bed? Incidentally, and this is true, “leche” can be slang for semen.
Bonus: Here is a picture of me legally drinking wine.
Two weeks ago, I embarked on an international adventure: studying abroad in Spain. For the next four months, I will live and breathe Madrid, learning the culture, practicing the language, and drinking wine. It will represent cultural exchange, coming-of-age, self-finding, and legal-alcohol-buying all in one. I will have a life entirely separate from my American one. And I'll be four months removed from Donald Trump. I can't wait.
This is the inaugural post for my “I’m in Spain!” blog, which I will continue to publish here. To contact me, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and email are all golden.
Having settled in, and completed our two-week orientation, I am steadily becoming aware of the subtleties of Madrid life. But I’ll start with the immediate observations.
Spaniards talk fast. Really fast. Faster than Latin Americans, and definitely faster than English speakers. Having learned only from Latin American professors for the past five years (and therefore never having heard a Spanish accent), as well as having harbored an overinflated sense of ability, here I am the space cadet American. My deer-in-headlights look outshines Blue Steele and even Magnum. It’s Oscar-worthy.
My Spanish has rapidly picked up the slack. Out of necessity.
Which is good, considering how often I get lost.
I live in Romeo. Which is small. Even Ann Arbor pales in comparison to Madrid. In fact, a Complutense professor visited orientation to discuss university culture and said, of his graduate studies at Michigan, that American schools are “in the middle of nowhere” and that Ann Arbor failed to entertain him for more than four nights.
Madrid is massive, and my feet hurt. Where am I? Yet every time I’ve gotten lost, I’ve apparently made it back home. So good, so far! I am sure my parents find that reassuring.
Another reason my feet hurt: Spaniards party until six o’clock in the morning, every Thursday, every Friday, and every Saturday. My host mother calls it juevedomingos —Thursundays, in English —like one long party. Spaniards have an insatiable appetite for (responsibly consumed) alcohol, dancing, and fiestas, and yet they never take siestas. The Spanish siesta is apparently a myth, much to my feet’s disappointment. And as an American, where the clubs turn down at two, this is exhausting. This lifestyle is unsustainable. How do they do it?!
Despite my constantly ragged, overwhelmed, confused American appearance, the Spaniards are wonderfully accommodating. Aside from one late-night street flasher, an experience that will haunt me until my grave, dear God, these people have cultivated a culture of wholesomeness, love, and raunchy public displays of affection. They opt not to partake in Midwestern-esque small talk, or insincere well-wishes to anyone, instead truly caring about a select few. You feel it. In professors, in host families, in friends. They rarely smile. They stare unashamedly at anyone for any reason. Yet the love, albeit less obvious, may be more concentrated than in American culture.
Right now, it is one o’clock in the morning here, and I start class tomorrow, so this will close my first post. But one final note: I wrote the first paragraph above on the flight here. (Well, that particular flight was delayed twice and cancelled, so technically wasn’t the flight here. But no matter.) In my naivety, I wrote, “And I'll be four months removed from Donald Trump. I can't wait.” However, in the first newspaper that I bought, wouldn’t you know it: An entire page dedicated to the oracle himself. He is inescapable. Delicious.
I like health care and politics. I sometimes write about them.
For the posts from my study abroad adventure in Madrid, Spain, click here.