Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mad About Madrid

Apparently free WiFi is not cool in Spain.

It’s been five days since I landed in here in España, the land of Rioja, tapas and ‘el buen tiempo’. The double entendre of ‘buen tiempo’ (which can mean both ‘good times’ and ‘good weather’) is not to be missed, since it rained almost the entire time I was in Madrid. You didn’t see me crying, because I was indoors in museums for most of my stay there anyy. And boy, do you need your museum cap on in Madrid. The Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia are all cornerstone institutions in the world of Western art – and all within walking distance of each other, too. Not to mention the new CaixaForum, an art space designed by Herzog & DeMeuron (drooooool…) that houses provocative temporary exhibitions: this place, along with the Reina Sofia, is putting Madrid on the global map of cool (move over, Barcelona, what makes you think you’re so special?).

Madrid is a luxurious breath of fresh air after the labyrinthine souks of Morocco. No, really, the city actually smells beautiful wherever you go. I don’t know what it is, but it’s delightful. Madrid is grand and majestic and on my last night there, I felt like a veritable Carrie Bradshaw as I giddily sauntered down Calle de Alcala, heading back to my pension from the slice-of-heaven Mercado San Miguel pleasantly full with croquetas de gamba, tostadas con bacalao and manchego cheese and a little happy from the one glass of Crianza (shut up). Holding two shopping bags in my hand, one filled with candy and the other with the cutest t-shirt I’ve ever seen, I felt like I was perfectly emulating the many solo strolls Sex and the City’s star takes through the streets of Manhattan (hey, we can’t all by strutting around with Manolos and Dolce & Gabbana bags, so I say the comparison still holds).

I’ve been in Granada less than two days now and I feel like I’ve already left a part of myself here. My dungeon-like apartment, tucked away in a quiet corner of the El Realojo neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter, just a couple of minutes downhill from the Alhambra), is my little nest. The happiest moment of my trip so far might have been when I ran out to the tiny supermarket off Campo del Principe, a delightful little square around which the barrio radiates, bringing back a loaf of bread, a hunk of blue cheese, figs and a bottle of wine for dinner. Walking past the whitewashed houses with flowers hanging from their balconies, glorious vistas of the city peeking through the narrow ends of streets, I felt like this was finally it.

Of course, it hasn’t all been fun and games. There’s been the project I’m supposed to be taking care of. Ah, yes, the project. I’m here on a project. I forgot about that for a second. It’s just been hard trying to figure out where to begin. Stimuli abound: Granada is filled with references to its Moorish legacy, surprising me with their presence at every turn. There are old Arab gates and archways, instances of Islamic calligraphy and of course, the ever-present Alhambra serves as a constant reminder of Granada’s roots. I’ve run into North African immigrants who own stores that sell the exact same babouches and leather pouffes I saw in Fez. There are tiny stalls with names like “Marrakech” and “Medina” selling hookahs and magnets of flamenco dancers. So what now? Do I make an effort to talk to people? Or do I just continue to observe? I am hoping that these are all things that clear themselves up with time and adjustment. (I have to keep on reminding myself that it hasn’t even been 48 hours).

So for now, I continue to take in Andalucia with its endless assortment of tapas and its resplendent sunlight. It gets lonely sometimes in my apartment, but that’s when a little blast of Katy Perry comes in handy.

PS. Running into Dave Marsh in Fez was hilarious. As I hurried past the hawkers on my way to Bab Boujloud, I hear “Saytay?!”. Funny, I think to myself, seems like someone has a name that sounds a lot like Saytay. When I turn around, I see an incredulous Dave Marsh. In the following seconds, there was an incredulous me in turn. The world is too small for its own good. From Williamstown to Fez: who woulda thunk?

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