I am an expat. Again. This time in a country where I do not know a single soul. But someone once called me “contagious”, which may have easily been one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, so I am certain the isolation will change soon. Tapas, nice wine and spanish men. What can possibly go wrong? (Actually, I can think about a million things that are very likely to go very wrong, possibly very soon).
I wrote the above about 12 weeks ago when I moved to Madrid. I did not bother with the blog in the meanwhile, because frankly, I doubt anyone would be interested in my flathunting, or shopping trips to local home decor/furniture stores (which in my book equals to hell, and people who genuinely enjoy trips to interior design stores are dangerous psychopaths and should be interned).
So, let’s take a closer look at the statements in the first paragraph. Obviously, nothing went terribly wrong, as yet, for the following reasons:
- Tapas…about that…seriously, how did tapas even became popular? What is the fuzz all about? There are many countries around the Mediterranean, where the Arab domination influenced the local cuisine and left some version of meze or tapas behind. But while the Arabs actually put some effort into creating a dish, albeit a small one, the Spanish just cannot be arsed. OK, the jamon is nice. That’s about it. Yay, they can cut off a pig’s leg and dry it in the wind! Well done. The rest on the national culinary treasures evolves around either fried or boiled potatoes topped with something, covered in oil, salt and sweet paprika. Patatas bravas: fried potatoes covered in dodgy ketchup. Croquetas: something (anything, really, from chopped seafood to stewed ox tail) mixed with bechamel and fried. Huevos rotos: french fries, fried chorizo and fried egg on top, which is a great breakfast when you are hungover, but arguably the most uncomfortable food to consume while standing in a crowded bar, which is the national sport here. The preparation of seafood tapas must surely qualify as animal torture. Just think about all those wonderful fresh octopus, clams, mussels, prawns and anchovies encountering a terrible fate by drowning in hot oil.
- On a more positive note, nothing wrong with the booze. The wine is actually very nice. So is cider, especially the dry one. The sweet one some bars have on tap is treacherous. It is sweet, refreshing and goes down like water. That is a hurried statement to be fair, I hardly ever touch water. Just be careful when standing up after a few glasses of cider.
- Men. Well. I wanted to live in the city centre and inadvertently moved into the gay part of town. Nothing wrong with being gay, of course. I believe everyone should be free to fall in love and/or have sex with whomever they like, as long as everyone is consenting. The problem with living in the gay area are of course not the gays, but our competing interests and my restricted hunting ground. But all things considered, I have been here since very short time and Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Madrid – first impressions
If you are planning a weekend in the spanish capital, either be a hardcore lover of museums (or a Real fan), or pick another city to visit. The museums are fantastic. Prado for the old masters, Reina Sofia for the 20th century (it doesn’t matter how many times you see Guernica, you will always stand in front of it in awe), Thyssen-Bornemisza for everything (literally everything from Ghirlandaio to Liechtenstein). Some people say that half of the collection is fake because it is too well-preserved to be true. Believe whatever you want, Thyssen is one of the most extraordinary museums in the world.
Other than that, there is not much to do. Madrid has been described as “full of elegant boulevards and grand architecture”. Matter of taste, I guess. While Barcelona’s boulevards are clean, elegant, stylish, with an occasional extravagant Gaudi masterpiece, Madrid is way too over the top. To me, the architecture in the Capital is size-obsessive, opulent, vaguely fascist (if you don’t know what vaguely fascist means, think Milano Centrale train station and drop the “vaguely”) topped with the worst of bad taste. Take the City Hall, for instance. Of all historical revivals, neo-gothic is the most tacky one. Or the Almudena Cathedral. An ugly wedding cake comes in mind. There is no real historical city centre, although some neighborhoods kept their character to some measure. The austere habsburg quarters “Madrid de las Austrias” (althouth there is a parking lot on literally every square, which spoils the atmosphere a bit), the lively Malasaña, Chueca, La Latina and Lavapies (mainly due to the quantity of coffee shops and bars), or the elegant Salamanca, which is way over my budget for both shopping and living, if I ever wanted to live in a part of town inhabited by people with three or four never-ending surnames who still keep Franco’s portrait at home and fly Opus Dei flag from their bedroom window. That ast bit wasn’t a joke. There are Opus Dei flags hanging from at least a dozen apartments of the building across the road from my office. I would last an afternoon. I’d play a Rolling Stones record on the first night and my neighbours wouldn’t know who to call first: the police or an exorcist.
Enough bitching. It may not seem that way, but I am actually really enjoying myself in Madrid. I enjoy having a place for myself, new language to learn, new country to explore, new job (and although it is essentially the same job as my previous one in London, people in the office are way friendlier, more helpful and generally nicer). I also like the fact that most people on the tube read. Actual books. And I love the almost constant blue skies, the soft autumn light, the colours the sky turns into at sunrise and sunset. Three months into the new adventure, I may not be settled in completely, but I am heading in the right direction. So, please, don’t give a thought to me, I’m really doing fine. You can always find me here, I’m having quite a time.
Autumn in the Retiro park