Posts Tagged ‘Madrid’

Making peace with Madrid; exploring the barrios

August 3, 2015

Like a defiant, self-absorbed bad boy who refuses to follow the rules, Madrid has always seemed to be wrapped up in a sort of Bacchian narcissism that’s not entirely interested in you unless you go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. And that typically means partying all night, until seven in the morning, drinking pacharáns and grazing tapas. Unfortunately, I go to bed at eight (and don’t drink much), which makes it rather difficult for me and Madrid to find common ground, let alone get to know each other more intimately.

But try I do. And, as with any strained familial relationship, I visit each year, with slight reservation, always trying to see the good, for the sake of getting along.

Why I try so hard is simple: it’s the home of my kids’ grandparents. And if it weren’t for them, whom I love dearly, Madrid and I would have parted ways back in 1997, when I packed my bags and said, good riddance.

I used to live in Vallecas on calle Monte Igueldo when I was first married. We lived in a two-bedroom piso on the forth floor of an apartment building with no heat or hot water due to an empty butane tank that took a good two months for the butane company to fill. It was December and it was cold as hell. It even snowed.  I used to percolate hot water in my coffee machine (we did have electricity) and mix it with a bit of cold water so that I could wash myself. We were so broke that McDonald’s was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

Poverty gave me a very limited and rather working-class understanding of the city.  I knew key tourist spots that you could visit for free–the Plaza Mayor, where Americans and Brits would sit at cafes that lined the inner courtyard, the Retiro, Madrid’s version of “Central Park,” the Rastro, a huge Sunday flea market in Lavapies, and Casa de Campo–another big green space that includes a pool, tennis courts, and a park. But other than that, I worked every day as an English teacher and commuted with the throngs of Madrileños, heading to Recoletos, up the Castellano or other parts of the city. And because I had no set location, no office or classroom–I took an English teaching job wherever one was offered–I probably spent more time underground than above it. Pair that with a hubby who didn’t exactly have friends that I could relate to or socialize with (he and his childhood friends would meet once a week to play Dungeons and Dragons, or drink at Irish pubs). And so, I never experienced the deeper Spanish roots of the city–or found any of those unwritten-about places that are not discovered, per se, but shared like a secret, among friends.

I think I may have actually said, me cago en la leche, when I finally left Madrid but who knows.

Yet, I keep coming back. As often as I can. And if I am to be brutally honest, I have to admit that it may be partly for selfish reasons. There are, after all, the warm and embracing Spanish people. And the amazing food. And the dry, desert climate I love so much.  The European experience is well-preserved in Spain. And Madrid, itself, while lacking in aesthetics, has the potential for deeper exploration. And so, each time I come here, I have the best intentions: to see a side of Madrid I never knew, overlook our rocky past, and once and for all learn to love this untamed rebel.

Lodging

Last year, was a giant leap in that direction. I finally decided to rent an apartment on the Plaza Santa Ana as opposed to my usual– staying in Vallecas with my in-laws. What a difference!

We were able to explore more of the center instead of just taking the train in for a few hours. We were free to dine out at night–though it kills me to miss anything my mother-in-law cooks. And we were able to connect a little more directly with the vibe of Madrid, as we were right there in the heart of the city, living la vida, as opposed to being insulated in a touristy hotel, or isolated in an outer barrio.

Foregoing a hotel to stay in one of the new-style super modern luxury apartments has other benefits too. There’s far more space for less money, it’s far more modern than any hotel in Madrid (with the exception of Only You a sleek, modern hotel at $350 a night, or  Oscar, in the gayborhood, which is beautiful, including the naked men on the walls, but not the best spot for two teen boys and their mum; basically a sex hotel in Chueca, easily identified by the banner over it’s front door “Do You Want to Sleep With Me?”) Leon II, Madrid

Check out Spain Select. They offer fully-furnished two, three and four bedroom luxury apartments in the heart of Madrid. Ours this year is a two bedroom, two bath apartment with a fully equipped kitchen (including washer and dryer),  living room and views galore for the price of € 135 (that’s roughly $150 a night based on the exchange rate on 7/21/15). It’s located on Calle Leon on a quieter street than the Plaza Santa Ana, which can be a party plaza.

Keep in mind, normal hotel rooms in Madrid are small. So, if you’re traveling with two rather large teenagers, or children in general, you’d most likely need two rooms or a suite. Apartments solve that problem. Of course, you will have to cover your own bed. But, I think I can handle that.

Barrios

Years ago, I would do my usual loop around the center: Sol, then the Plaza Mayor, a little of the Gran Via, Atocha, Retiro, maybe the royal palace, and that was pretty much it. This trip is all about branching out. And if you’re no stranger to Madrid, my guess is you already know about this gems.

Malasaña: I have since discovered the hipster Malasaña district, with pleasant delight, never knowing it existed. Duh. With cool cafes like La Bicicleta, that offers amazing coffee and French croissants, and a pretty well thought-out “workspace” (tables have drawers with keys so that you can leave your laptop locked up without losing your space when you go to the W/C), and Lolina Vintage Cafe, a thoroughly mesmerizing cafe popping with color and design (and a kind of quirky menu), it’s hard to resist this bohemian, vibrant district. The Plaza del Dos de Mayo is its center and it has great vintage and trendy clothing shops, fabulous bars and hip cafes.  Use metro Tribunal.

Huertas: This year, we will be staying in the Huertas neighborhood, which is the literary quarter:

Also known as Barrio de las Letras, Huertas was once home to prominent literary figures, Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega among them. Calle Huertas itself is inlaid with quotes from celebrated authors, street names pay homage to them, and second-hand bookshops pervade. neighborhood, everything becomes a little more cramped and slightly less refined, and takes on more of an underground feel. Live music is at the heart of Huertas: by night, its subdued bars are ideal for meeting friends, sipping cocktails, and chatting quietly while enjoying jazz or singer-songwriter performances. –TripAdvisor

Be sure to stroll down the narrow calle de las Huertas, which has the Plaza de Angel and Plaza Santa Ana on one end, and the Paseo del Prado on the other.  This area is also known for its jazz clubs, live music venues like Cafe Central, neighborhood bookstores, The Teatro Español, and yes, more cafes and restaurants. Best people-watching spot: an outdoor cafe on the Plaza Santa Ana.

La Latina: 

While I’ve known about La Latina for quite a while (it is, after all where the Palacio Royal and a part of Plaza Mayor are located), I have never explored it as thoroughly as I’d like, nor have I done so knowing its history. La Latina is the oldest quarter in Madrid, and one of the most beautiful. It is here you will find the best concentration of tapas bars, including Café Bar DelicCasa Lucas, and Casa Lucio, the latter two located on calle Cava Baja, one of the oldest streets in Madrid and a popular cafe street in La Latina. Interestingly, the Cava Baja (and its twin street, the Cava Alta) were named after caves or “moats” that allowed subterranean access to Christians and Moors who could enter and exit the city even when the doors of the walled city were closed. In later years, merchants who would come to the city to trade would stay on these streets, which were lined with inns and taverns. 

Also in La Latina is Madrid’s oldest street, the calle de Grafal, which, according to historians, dates back to 1190. But stick to the calles Cava Alta and Cava Baja where all the action is. And only long after dark.

La Latina’s main squares are the Plaza La Cebada and Plaza La Paja. And you can also find the Rastro, a huge flea market open on Sundays in La Latina. 

To read more about Madrid’s neighborhoods, TripAdvisor has a great page devoted to them.

 

 

 

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Rail trip across France, Spain

May 23, 2014

“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Trying to get back to Europe is no easy feat (lorsque le temps viendrait!). Airline tickets can cost, at the cheapest, anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 per person. Decent hotels in big cities like London, Paris and Madrid are usually over $200 a night. Forget about hotels by the beach in July and August. And while rail travel is still relatively inexpensive, it’s not what it used to be. Of course, you can definitely do Europe on a budget. Staying in hostals and sharing a shower with a bunch of backpacking twentysomethings is probably your top best budget saver. But, really? Not for a family of four.  So…bide your time, save your money and try to devote a few hours per week to perusing TripAdvisor for deals and tips and soon enough, you’ll have a realistic idea of how much you’ll need for the trip of your dreams.

Style, budget and space, check!

A rail trip across France and into Spain not only requires money but time. Reasearch time, in particular. Hours of Google searching went into each of these hotels, painstakingly trying to find ones that fit into my budget, without compromising that one commodity I just don’t ever want to give up: atmosphere.  Being the hotel snob that I am, any place I stay must have that certain je ne sais quoi, that ambience that delivers a true “I’m in Europe” feel. And believe it or not, that “feel” is not easy to find. Many hotels across Europe are plain, simple, and at best, functional. They may have a stunning reception area, but rooms oftentimes can be barren (a bed, end table, TV and bathroom), and lacking in what I call an American idealized version of what we think a hotel in Europe should be. Worse yet, is that in certain cities the hotel fashion at the moment happens to be all-American, New England, circa 1982 (ahem, Madrid, I’m talking about you. You go from the sublime to the ridiculous). The worst though are the hotels along the coast in France and Spain. Little seaside resorts that are inundated in summer with European travelers. Booking three months in advance isn’t soon enough. You need to grab some of the better hotels six months to a year in advance, or get stuck with the typical highrise hotel room that makes you feel more like you’re in Wildwood, NJ than on the Costa Brava.  Lastly, and most importantly, is that when you travel as a family through Europe, it’s almost impossible to find big rooms with a separate living area. Many times what they offer are quadruple rooms, or “quads” which is basically two double beds smushed together in one small room. And while that may save you money, you just may end up killing each other by the end of your trip. I hate to be a whiny, privileged American girl, but — when you’re traveling together for 18 days straight, you need your space. So, all of the rooms I booked either had connecting rooms, a separate bedroom area or, we simply rented two rooms.

OK, so…the particulars… This particular itinerary is an 18-day rail trip, consisting of  seven stops, beginning in London and ending in Madrid. Because my kids’ grandparents live in Madrid, we saved it for last, where we will stay for five days in an apartment, not a hotel (I’ll get to why, below). Every other stop along the way will be a two-day stop. Had we not extended our stay in Madrid, we probably would have gone from Barcelona over to Pamplona (one day) then to Bilbao (two days) and then Madrid. Each hotel is in walking distance of public transportation, either directly walking from the main train stations, or by connecting Metro stops. The only time where this is not the case is in Annecy, France, where we plan to rent a car from Paris and drive to Annecy (in the French Alps). We are doing this for two reasons: once in Annecy, we would like to take what we believe is a 45-minute car ride to Geneva, Switzerland (a train ride from Annecy to Geneva apparently takes three hours, due to a gazillion stops and layovers along the way), and so that when my husband has to go back to Paris the next day, to head home, he can simply take the car back, and drop it off at Charles du Gaul airport. If you would like actual cost of the trip, or hotel recommendations, please feel free to comment. And of course, when I get back, I will give my firsthand account of how it all panned out!

LONDON, ENGLAND • HOTEL: The Academy Hotel,
 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury 
London
WC1E (Tube Goodge Street- Northern Line 6HG)(Two night, family room) I chose this hotel (instead of the Think Apartment Hotel, which I had originally booked) because it was a little cheaper and it was a little more central to where I wanted to be. This hotel is in the literary Bloomsbury district in walking distance to Covent Garden. Their family room consists of two separate bedrooms and a living area. It doesn’t look too fancy, but London hotels are extremely expensive. We’re lucky to have found what we hope will be a nice place. • TRAIN: Aprox. 2 hours, EuroRail Train London-Saint Pancras to Paris Nord (four persons $459)

PARIS, FRANCE • HOTEL: Villa Pantheon, 41 Rue Des Ecoles 5th arr. – Quartier Latin Paris, 75005 (Metro Maubert Mutualite) (Adjoining rooms) Also pricey are hotels in Paris. This is a British-style hotel supposedly in the Latin Quarter, but it’s if it is, it’s on the very edge. It’s much closer to the Saint-Germain-des-Près area, farther south-east. But the area itself is another favorite area of mine–right by the Pantheon, and of course, in the heart of Paris, on the left bank. Here, we reserved connecting rooms. • Rental Car Company: Auto Europe. Picking up a midsize car at the Gare du Lyon around the corner and heading to Annecy (aprox 5h 30m )

ANNECY, FRANCE • HOTEL: Hotel Les Tresoms 3 Boulevard De La Corniche Annecy, France TELEPHONE: +33-450514384 I wanted to splurge a bit at this location. When will we ever be back in the French Alps? Why not have a hotel room on Lake Annecy? A bit over budget, but hopefully worth it. • TRAIN to Aix-en Provence (aprox 3h39m)

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, FRANCE • HOTEL: Hotel Aquabella 2 Rue Des Etuves, Aix-en-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhone, 13100 This hotel is right in the center of town 11 minutes walking distance from the main train station. I can’t forget to have some ratatouille while here, and of course, a little bit of red wine de Provence. We reserved two separate rooms at this hotel because of their size. And unfortunately, there is only one late night train to Aix from Annecy, so we will pretty much lose a day here. Quel dommage! • TRAIN: (About 2h30m to Sete)

Update: this hotel was a huge disappointment–very unclean and definitely not as up-to-date as the photos would have you think. However, it is very close to a charming plaza right off the rue Merindol, before you hit the the Place Forum de Cardeurs where we had a great Moroccan dinner in an outdoor cafe, called Le Pe’tit Tagine. My suggestion: if you want to experience Aix, rent a house in the countryside

SETE, FRANCE • HOTEL: Le Grand Hotel, 17 Quai Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, Sète, France. This is one of those places that has probably become far grander in my imagine that it is in reality. I say this because the hotel looks amazing, yet the town looks completely lacking. In fact, it looks as if it’s just a canal town. And yet, it’s Provence. I’ll make the best of it. • TRAIN: (aprox 3h3m)

BARCELONA, SPAIN • HOTEL: Hotel Duquesa de Cardona 4* Sup.Passeig Colom 12 – 08002 (Metro: Jaume 1 or Drassanes) Barcelona (España). This is another stuning hotel with a roof top bar and pool overlooking the sea. Here, we will be staying in their largest room, the Junior Suite La Duquesa, with double balconies and a separate bedroom. Once I arrive in Spain I believe I can finally relax! I speak Spanish far better than French, and I am far more at ease here as I know the customs much better. Además, este es el país del padre de mis hijos. • TRAIN: (about 3 h 5 m)

MADRID, SPAIN • HOTEL: Apartment Plaza de Santa Ana 1, 2º Dcha B, 28004, Madrid (Metro: Anton Martin. Apartment arrivals can be made between 4.00 pm. and 9.00 pm. Last but not least! Madrid, my old home! Because we normally stay with my in-laws, I have never had need for a hotel in Madrid. However, now that my sons are so big, and we all take up so much room, it’s time we got a place of our own. When I looked into hotels in Madrid, I was greatly disappointed. And then I remembered apartment rentals for a similar price. Bingo! For under the cost of a hotel room with two double beds and a bath, we will be renting a two bedroom apartment on the Plaza Santa Ana (one of the most popular plazas in the center of town), a huge living room, kitchen two bathrooms and a dining room. Outrageous. It’s also right near the Tirso de Molina metro stop, which means it’s a direct line to my kids’ grandparents’ house in Vallecas.

Feel free to share this itinerary. And if you have any questions, comment below!

Madrid al cielo

July 28, 2010

Look up, man. Not down.

A man with blood on his knuckles and his eyes on some weird kind of crack is riding the Metro. There is a homeless woman swathed in black who ask for centimes. A Peruvian immigrant down the calle Monte Perdido yells at her two sons, making them cry; neither of her children are  wearing shoes in a street with dog shit on every block, smeared in the crevices of paved lattice concrete. A Cerveceria strewn with rolled up, discarded napkins after the morning rush hour of cafe con leche and a bollo is quiet. Old men who gather on a bench infront of the Ajuntamiento, brown and wrinkled from the sun, discuss the end of the bullfight, and perhaps, how strange and foreign the world is now.

“Franco is laughing from the grave!”

There is a paradox here: there is the constant smell of bad sewage and body odor and cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of baking bread and olive trees, lemons and French perfumes on rich ladies who shop at the Corte Ingles. There is a deep, burning beauty in the eyes of a young gitana who wears a red flower in her hair and swooshes an abanico in her dark hand. People are hot from the sun in Madrid. They’re thirsty. Some are hungry, suffering. But the suffering is like a season that lifts when the air is cool and a family who loves gathers by a window open to the sky.

The Manzanares

June 16, 2010

This is a revised piece

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia. It’s nothing to see. And I cross, pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je suis a la recherche d’ une personne du nom de… And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, soul kissing the American after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am useless and apoplectic when it comes to finding beauty when it isn’t there. I’m not creative enough. The water is black. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like debris on the sides of the bank.

I head back down the understated arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I don’t want the Spaniard to worry. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down a street where a Gitana sings an unknown song of sorrow, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up.

Andalucía

April 16, 2010

So, I had to scrap the idea of going deeper into the heart of Morocco, due to time and lack of resources, but I sold the Audi and by God, I’m going to Spain this summer.

I am excited about two things: summer camp for the boys and mine and D’s voyage into the south of Spain. We’re going for two weeks, the kids and I. D will come with us for the first 10 days. And while the boys are in an intensive Spanish language summer camp for one week (all-inclusive with sports, pool, activities, crafts, flamenco classes, day trips in and around Marbella, huge buffet dinners of tortilla de patatas, jamon serrano, lomo con queso, and of course, Spanish language immersion classes), D and I will drive around the south of Spain for seven days. Aside from being extremely nervous about leaving my boys in camp for a week straight (despite my sister-in-law K praising her days as a kid in summer camp), I am looking forward to an adventure of my own, albeit a more modest one than the previous I had imagined. Oh Sheltering Sky! I must wait a little longer for you.

Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1
MADRID
Compostela Suites
This was the only hotel that slept two adults and two kids for a decent amount of money (90 €). I settled for clean and contemporary because Madrid is SERIOUSLY lacking in hotels with charm and old world ambience. This is one of those new long stay hotel-apartment places for business travelers and families. So, I’m not sure it will have all the amenities as a regular hotel. But it does have a pool! And it’s right by the airport, which is all we really need as we will be catching a train for the South the next morning. Hopefully worth the night. They do have a little cafeteria, but hotel breakfasts are usually overpriced. So, I think it’ll have to be  churros con chocolate and some fresh squeezed OJ on the train’s dining car instead.

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Sol
  • Plaza Santa Ana
  • Retiro

Day 2

MALAGA
Hostal Pedregalejo
Now that we’re taking the boys to the south with us to stay in the camp in Marbella, we decided to spend an extra night in Andalucia. We’ll take the train to Malaga, stay for the night, and the next morning, we’ll hit the road for Marbella. On the way from Malaga to Marbella, we’d like to stop in Mijas, one of the white villages of Spain,  for lunch.

Day 3

CÓRDOBA
Hotel Hacienda Posada de Vallina
From Marbella we will drive up to Cordoba. This will be our first night of “old world charm.” The hotel was supposedly constructed before the Mosque itself, and the builders stayed in this hotel while construction took place. Furthermore,  it is said that when Christopher Columbus stayed in Cordoba, he lived in room 204 of the hotel. I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea. For dinner, we made a reservation at El Churrasco on Calle Romero.

Day 4 and 5
GRANADA
Hotel Casa Capitel Nazari
I stayed in this lovely hotel two years ago with my boys. In fact, I’ve asked for the same room because I was so pleased with it. Hopefully, they will fulfill this request. Like the hotel in Cordoba, this one too is steeped in history. It’s an “ancient Renaissance Palace, built in 1503,” located right in the heart of the Albaicin. From our room I believe you can see the Alhambra.

Day 6, 7 and 8
VEJER de la FRONTERA
La Casa del Califa
When you click on this link, be sure to take the “virtual tour.” This hotel is amazing. It’s a collection of eight buildings, some of which have been in existence since the 10th century. There are vaults, catacombs, terraces and even an aljibe (an underground water cistern) dating from 700 AD, all of which are naturally exposed unto the design of the hotel, giving a traveler like me the chance to experience history and present day at once. For more about the history of this hotel and the region of Vejer, click aquí.

While staying in Vejer, we plan to visit Tarifa. What I like most about Tarifa are the beaches and the possible nightlife. Apparently it’s a very young, sporty town because of the wind surfing, with lots of fun restaurants, night clubs and tapas bars. And speaking of tapas bars, a must while in Tarifa is La Mandragora. I’ve read only good things about it and their menu looks divine.

  • Day trip Tangier and Asilah
  • Walking through the Town
  • Wine and Tapas

Day 8 and onward…
MARBELLA to VALLECAS
Back to Marbella to pick up the kids and head back to Madrid. Once in Madrid, we will say goodbye to D and stay on another week with my in-laws in Vallecas. The kids will be taking classes for the following week only in the morning, and then in the afternoons, we’ll have lunch with the abuelitos and then maybe go to the Retiro or the zoo. I think after all that, I’ll be ready to come home!

Bits & Pieces: Karen

August 30, 2009

My friend is an artist. She’s visiting from England. She’s staying with us for the next four days. She’s never been to Madrid. Once, a long time ago, when her parents were still together, her mum and dad took her to Torrevieja on summer holiday. All the Brits holiday in Spain. They come down in July and August and no matter where you go on the coast you only hear English. You never hear Spanish, and when you try to speak it, you’re cut off and the shop keepers answer you in English. It’s frustrating because I’m not a tourist. But Madrid. She’s never been to Madrid. So I promise to take her everywhere.

I’m so happy that I cry when I see her at Barajas Airport. I see her beautiful brown skin in a sea of white and when she’s there, right in front of me, I hug her and don’t let go. It’s been ten years.

I’ve fixed up her room; the room overlooking the red roofs and green awnings of the gypsies that live behind us. The ones that have the chickens in cages on their terraces. My mother-in-law gave us R’s old twin bed. I found a desk for cheap at the flea market. And I bought posters of the famous bullfighters and a set of old red curtains there too. She will be able to see the sun come up from this room, and I can’t say that I won’t be a little jealous.

In Paris, we shared a one-room chamber-de bonne in Les Halles. It had a double bed, a shower, a toilet and a formica-top table with two chairs.  Maybe even an electric double-burner for cooking. I can’t remember. She never slept at her step father’s place out past the Bois de Boulogne because he’d make her watch the baby all the time, and she felt so far away from all the fun. Instead, she’d let herself into the courtyard of my apartment and yell up to my window to be let in. 26 Rue Rimbuteau. She wanted to be in the center, with me.  She was nineteen. I was twenty-one. We partied all night, missed the trains, walked back home at three, four, five o’clock in the morning and then slept all day. Sometimes we woke up with our legs wrapped around each other, and then laughed about it over a coffee down at the Saint Placid where we’d go for breakfast if money came in.

“For fuck’s sake, the closest thing to me getting laid is sleeping with you, every night.”

“Oh Karen. You really do live a rah-ther pathetic life…” I always tried to copy her London accent. She appreciated the effort.

We’d do shots of espresso, smoke long brown cigarettes, flirt with rich Americans doing semesters abroad and “get pissed” every night at the Violon Dingue. We never went back to the Alliance Francaise, where we met, taking classes. We remained together. Each other’s foreign education. From there on out, we lived a rah-ther cliché, expatriate life, and came of age where only a lucky few, privileged girls do.

Bits & Pieces: the Manzanares

April 29, 2009

Manzanares

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares River, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not like the Seine, Tracy.”

“I know, I know. But I’m just curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Alto de Extremadura. I can’t remember now. But I walk quite a ways through low-income, orangy brick tenements, with green awnings before I see the river and cross it. It’s nothing to see. And I cross it pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III. I speak French to myself, “bien sur,” “absolument,” “oh la la,” and remember the nights Karen and I crossed at the Pont St. Michel on our way back home at three in the morning from Le Violon Dingue. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am trying to be happy anyway. The water is murky. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like trash on the sides of the black water.

I head back down the subtle arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and  I don’t want to be alone after dark. But I end up lost, looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down streets where old widows still wear black and sing sad old Castilian songs of lost love and broken hearts.