Sunday, May 30, 2010

Culture overload, abort, abort! ...and bleeding bulls.

The next day Indiana and I arose with the roosters in order to soak up some Madrileño culture, as much as we could in 24 hours. We started with some chocolate con churros, a Spanish breakfast. The chocolate is supposed to be hot chocolate. But in this context, it is basically a thick, creamy, orgasmic lava of chocolate in a cup. It is so thick that when you dip your churro, it sticks all around it and creates the most amazing sweet breakfast. As a choco-holic, the Deputy never shies away from a choco-challenge and this was no choco-different. I INHALED the churros and the chocolate. I drank the chocolate like I had just upturned a Hershey's syrup bottle, bringing me back to my childhood. Enough with romanticizing sugar products, we were off to the Reina Sofia and the Museo del Prado to see some art.

The first museum, the Reina Sofía, presented the artwork of more modern, progressive art depicting cubism and realism by artists like Miró, Dalí and Picasso. Indiana is a great museum goer. She, like I, did the slow sauntering gait through the wide hallways of the gallery. Taking both hands clasped behind your back as you gently kneel to the paintings description, but with a certain air that you are only looking to reaffirm your first impression that it was from Miró's later work. Even if you see it is from a random Flemish Impressionist, you slowly nod and look up and maintain the cultured essence about you, with your nose raised slightly above sea-level. The work was fantastic, I really enjoyed the museum, we spent an hour just on one floor. Some of the artwork went completely over my head (Miro's "Landscape" with a line across the canvas, a red dot below it, and six-pointed star above it). I mean I "understand" the theory and social and political commentary behind it, but I am more of a Renaissance man (using the term Renaissance as an adjective in reference to the 15-1600's art movement and not to my multi-faceted abilities).

We spent so much time in the first museum and may have over-indulged the museum pace that we had to quickly scamper through the second museum. Almost as if we had recorded our first museum walk and essence and played it in fast forward, arms still behind our backs just the shuffling of feet and nodding of head was more for going through the motions.

THEN THE PLAZA DE TORROS. Probably the highlight of the weekend was taking the metro to Las Ventas and seeing my first bullfight. A lot of the locals have not even been to one because of the depravity and inhuman nature of it, but when in Rome do as the locals don't have the stomach for. After hustling for some scalped tickets, we enter the arena. We wore decent clothing and sunflower seeds to make sure we fit in with the toothless savages that attend such displays. We could not have been more off. The person who attends a bullfight is of the upper-class, with collared shirts and jackets for the men and the appropriate counterpart for the women. As I sat spitting my sunflower seeds on the floor in front of me, my neighbor lightly placed it into a cup. It was quite a bait and switch for us.

So the bull charges out, raging in anger. There are three bullfighters, each fight twice and they are composed of teams. Within on corrida there are three rounds: the main bullfighter tires the bull a little, then men on horses with lances strike the initial blows, then vigilante torreros holding only but two spikes insert at least six into the bulls back, then the final torrero tires the bull until he has a chance to make the fatal strike with a sword to the nape of the bull's neck. Graphic, I know, but it entranced me for two solid hours. It possessed artistry, athleticism and skill. It was not a bullfight but a bull dance. It didn't help that the torrero was dressed like he was just voted off Dancing With the Stars, with jewel encrusted corset and tights. It was brutal and barbaric in a way that invites the audience into an accurate depiction of a traditional past, something that we can all respect.

Yo no hago nada

Caitlin and Indian just left 16 hours ago and I already miss out líos. So since the last time the Deputy blogged about them, it had just been the first day. Since then, the days have been filled with site-seeing, culture, comida and líos. Awaking now, in my bed after 16 hours, should pay homage to the extent of our adventures. The first full day with my beauties was spent at el Palacio Real, where the royalty of the Spanish live. It is this beautiful edifice set at the edge of a mountain, hoarding an expansive landscape of the Spanish countryside in its grasp. The courtyard in the middle of the castle was so grand that it felt liberating just knowing the distance of your next boundary. The rooms inside were so immaculately decorated, separated in theme only by color but connected by style and luxury. Though I felt that no indoor gold-encrusted chaise could rival the general feeling at first looking at the palace entrance's facade.

Then, hilarity ensued. Why see more when you can spend more? Primark is a retail store that only has a few stores per every big city, but it has yet to reach the US. This is probably because we have valid human rights protocols. I bring up human rights because the prices they charge for their clothing and accessories still smelled fresh of baby tears. I could almost still hear the cries of hunger in the workers voice as I tried on a dress shirt/tie combination in the dressing room. But it was only 5 Euros, so let 'em cry. Caitlin told us there is actually a sign in front of the London store that says to ask a manager if you want to know more about their labor practices. Now everyone would think that this is a fun afternoon excursion to the mall, but my hour commute would beg to differ. It required a metro, to bus, to selling your first born combination to arrive at the mall entrance, but it cost 5 Euros. Let them cry, I said. We met with Caitlin's friend from college, McKenzie who looks like the alternative singer/songwriter from The Real World D.C. Cool style, laid-back California attitude, and a kindred spirit in the fact that she delved completely into the Spanish culture during her stay here.

Oh wait! So while waiting in line, Indiana was being pestered by an 8-year-old girl standing right behind her. The rest of us weren't quite sure what it was, maybe just a child acting out. But Indiana's blushing cheeks and nervous, scampering glances around the room seemed to say there was more. I look down at the girl for myself and about 30 seconds later her hand raises from her side. It slowly, surreptitiously sneaks out and extends towards Indiana. Further and further until the appendage has reached it's full extension, when it slowly grazed Indiana's inner-thigh, caressing it like a poorly-written romance novel. Indiana jumped and looked down at the girl. Her mother had not noticed of her daughter's lesbionic misgivings and stared at Indiana and I, returning our inquisitive gaze with annoyance. The mother looked down and said in an angelic, slow-paced plea, "Yo no hago nada". I double-over because I am flooded with this image of a 24 year-old Indiana basically molested by an 8-year-old at the mall. It's 3 p.m., do you know where your kids are? Is anywhere safe?

That night we met Caitlin's cousin who is madrileño for his gallery exhibition opening. It was a quaint, one-room exhibition but it was refreshing to be among the locals and experiencing some emerging artist's talents. I asked some questions, that were all a farse, just to express my interest and feign my intellect. We had a cerveza, but were starving. We headed to a restaurant on some abandoned street and order some drinks and a plethora of tapas. Tapas is the key to weight maintenance people. Ordering and sharing a lot of little tastes of food is like how an anorexic chews but doesn't swallow. You get the flavor and the experience of eating dinner without actually eating that much. It is the ambience and company that fills that last 20%, a percentage that Americans fill with Super-sizing or substituting the fruit cup for an extra helping of bacon. There is something about not having your own meal that takes away the stigma of "finishing". It was a great night but the next day was to be jam-packed so we needed some rest.

my place, MY place

The past few days have been littered with sightseeing, cuisine and culture, and my freakin' feet hurt from it. I now sit in Hostal Luz, writing on my bed, a hostel that is decorated and run by three feuding grandmothers. These women awake at 8:30 and have a fight by 8:35. There is the main abuela that sits at the front desk and takes the reservations, while two others scurry about into and out of rooms, cleaning and folding. Maybe it is the role dynamics that play a part in a power struggle reminiscent of one of Homer's tragedies. The linens have more floral prints than a female Ed Hardy line, but with abuelas running your hostal there comes perks. Everything is spotless, over-linened, and quiet. Tomato, Tomahto, right?

It is my last day here because today at 2:30 I get to move in to my very own apartment. I was telling my parents that I cannot wait to lock the door behind me, lay on the floor and roll around screaming, "Mine! Miiine! Miiiinneee!! There is something about American's and property, something that stems from a severe dependence on privacy that makes us feel comfortable or at home. Our obsession with ownership and exclusivity has really taken a toll on myself and our culture as Americans. I can just picture a paraphrased version of an intellectual property litigation suit where the two fundamental arguments are:

Plaintiff: "It's mine!"
Defendant: "Uh-uh, it's mine, give it back!"

But, truth be told, my stay for 2 1/2 months requires some sort of haven, some sort of reclusive get-away that allows me to shut my door, tap my heels three times and wish for the bible belt. I want a place to invite people over, a place to cook, a place to really engrain my existence into so as to create a displaced comfort. The apartment is in a great location with a frutería, verdurería, quesería, charcutería, carnecería, Burger King, Starbucks and McDonald's all in one block.

So who shall I invite to my housewarming party tonight? Hmm..maybe I'll invite..well, or maybe...hmm well. HAHA no one's invited! 'Cause who the %$&%^! would come, I don't know anyone. I jest, there are about two Spaniards I think may make the trip out. Probably only one, Jaime the furniture restoration store owner, will be in attendance. But it will be the most awesome two-person housewarming party EVER!

Don't forget to bring some Manchego cheese, the Deputy loves that stuff.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What do the Palacio Real and H&M have in common?

Caitlin and Indiana (or Arizona as she is now known around the La Latina neighborhood) came yesterday and it is such an amazing treat. I woke up and went through some very stereotypical phases of human excitement. It started off with Boy on Christmas Morning, something that I am completely unaware of as a member of the Judaic tribe. But yesterday I felt it. I felt the anxiety on the safe arrival of my "presents", then the anger that the long-awaited arrival had not come sooner, then the depression on my dependency on such basic human interaction, then the sorrow at my depression, then I felt the cutting of my wrists....just kidding. But I couldn't sleep because I was rearing to go and excited to share the sites of the city with them.

Then upon hearing the melodic vibrations of Caitlins voice reverberating throughout the hallways of Hostal Luz, I began the next phase of excitement we shall name, The Puppy Whose Owner Just Came Home From Work. I ran down the hallway of wooden planks in socks, so my feet were slipping out from under me as I scampered to place myself in the most welcoming position, much as a labrador does as it struggles to get traction on hardwood floors. If I was a species that sat on all-fours, I would have, staring up wide-eyed at my new company and wagging my tail. I wonder if Caitlin looked around for a tennis ball after seeing me so that she could distract me with a quick game of "Fetch" while she handled human obligations like settling the bill. I'll have to ask her.

We waited around which what seemed like an eternity, exaggerated by my insatiable desire for Spanish cuisine in form of a Ham and Cheese sandwich. See aforementioned reference to my religion, oops, sorry G-d. Indiana (or Arizona) finally arrived and Caitlin and we embraced our third counterpart (not wheel). We had just a simple bocadillo and some drinks and then headed to Madrid's famous epicenter of cultural influence, H&M and ZARA! It was hilarious but they were coming off a long flight and we had plenty of time to drag ourselves around the city and stare at some Monet exhibit, pontificating instead about how much Sangria we were going to have later while still maintaining the face of "He Uses Such Great Lighting Techniques".

We went out later that night to La Latina with a friend of Jorge's (Caitlin's boyfriend for those not savvy of anything American University and/or recently adorned visa bearers of the US). It was a great time, we sat out on a Terraza and enjoyed the quirky, charming neighborhood. However, I regretfully ended up stealing Indiana's thunder. She engaged with this group of guys, all three of which were pining for her attention. The only one who remotely had a chance to get a rose at Indiana's Rose Ceremony later that night, considering he was the only one with a full-set of real teeth, ended up taking an ad hoc English lesson from me. The night ended a bit early (2 a.m.), but it was the second establishment from which we were asked to leave so it was not by any fault of our own.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't forget your workout card!!

The gym has always been to me this dog show, where everyone prances about in some feeble attempt to flaunt their peacock feathers to the rest of the room, demonstrating their domination of the art of weightlifting. That is a lot of the reasons why a lot of people shy away from the brute and unfortunate ego training that goes hand in hand with exercising. Pero bueno, I went to the gym anyways and pre-planned my exercises so that I could put on this "I know what I'm doing, don't bother me, wow these weights are heavy because I am so buff" face and exit the situation without any battle wounds. So I get on the floor and head to my first machine, taken, crap, I have to switch gears. I wasn't prepared!! Anyways, I look over at the culprit and he has a card with all of the exercises that work each muscle group on some stock paper with pictures and everything. I thought to myself that I couldn't believe that I was robbed by some amateur with his wimpy workout card. Then I looked over and saw that one of the trainers had the same card while helping a man who I believe starred in the 1990's hit SNL spin-off "It's Pat" (see link Okay, so maybe it's for newcombers and trainers. Then I saw some post-apocalyptic version of Narcissus with a Thomas Guide of vein highways with the same card!!

What is this card? And...why don't I have one? I guess everyone here (or at least at Body Factory on la Calle Martin de los Heros) has this sacred card. The secrets of the deep must be contained in it. So as we Americans stress on how good we look when we work and how seasoned we are as veterans of the ancient art of bodybuilding, the Spaniards are shameless parading around their dog show with a guidebook. Why not, right? Why are we so image conscious as a society that when we are actually doing something positive with our bodies, we have to be insecure as to our methods?

Turn over a new leaf people. I think I'm going to make a powerpoint presentation with pictures and video tutorials of all my exercises that I want to do that day. Then, I am going to project it against one of the main walls because I name is Brian Kotick and I don't know how to work out properly (said in an Alcoholics Anonymous introductory cadence).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Baker & McKenzie

I thought my office at Disney was the best, but this office is different. Whereas Disney had all the media outlets and movie theaters and memorabilia from the High School Musical dynasty, this office has sophistication and class. The receptionist was wearing a blue-tooth earpiece. Each meeting room has those smokey glass walls that you see in an episode of 24, that cloud up if occupied. The walls are white and the tables are pristine. The bathrooms have motion censor lights that light up as you walk to the sink and fade as you walk out. Each stall has its own personal light that you turn on if using that particular facility. Going green?

I am going to be working in the IP department with a relatively small team. I was relieved to hear that there wouldn't be that many people because that meant more access, easier communication and a greater chance at making an impact. Work starts in a week so I get a chance to relax and sunbathe in el Parque de el Retiro or maybe outside the palace gates. I'll probably see a museum or two, since I am up at this g-d forsaken hour.

Last night was a success, I decided to meander the streets and let the night choose me. I decided to botellón and asked for directions about 27 times and where the nearest "hot spot" was about 13 times. I got the attention of this rowdy bunch that turned out to be the dancers for Paulina Rubio on her world tour. They were in Spain for a little while longer and just came in town to pick up one of their newest dancers. I had to inform them that if the new dancer failed at any point or did not live up to the expectation of a global performer, that I was in Funktion and could pick up dances very quickly. Chuckling at what they thought was a joke, we spent the majority of the night together, bar hopping around Salamanca. For an awkward Monday night, it was a great success. Now if only I could remember their names and maintain that connection...

Gay or Spanish?

My contact's name at human resources for my job is Ana Valls. In Spanish, they pronounce the "V" as a "B". I asked for Ana.

Monday, May 24, 2010

All The Small Things

A metro ride can never be taken for granted. On that same line of reasoning, no moment in transit can be wasted as one usually slips in to some unconscious psychosis, hypnotized by monotony. It is in these small transient moments that nuggets of fluency are sifted out of grains of repetition. The example best suited for this topic is how I learned to define "excuse me". This happened to me the first time I went to Argentina but has been reinforced with a current situation. I was riding the subway, bobbing along like a child's toy played with by Big Brother during my commute to a horrific job, when some women said "permiso" behind me. I realized that it was the word for "excuse me" that wasn't excúsame. Then I realized there was disculpa and excúsame and permiso and perdón. So now I have four words to apply to one problem, and in my attempt to assimilate perfectly into the crowd of locals I deemed it imperative to investigate the differences. Without getting into a linguistic tango with my readers about origins and dialects, I arrive at my point. A sound traveler must actively listen to find the true language outside of the books. For those of you wondering, permiso comes at a time when you are trying to politely pass by or through a crowd. Disculpa is used when you are interrupting someone, either their speech or their walk, etc. Perdón is if you physically run into someone, you have to perdón your action. Excúsame is almost rarely used and is more if your fart that you intended to be silent but deadly, ends up sneaking an inappropriate, proverbial "poof". This lesson came back to me when someone asked me for directions. Aside from the fact that I was elated at being mistaken for a local (my daily goal), I learned that here the word for "block" is not the same as in Argentina. Here the word is manzana instead of cuadra. Basically this long paragraph is to inform the casual tourist to listen up, pay attention, and never let a cultural moment pass by.

This is not just a linguistic lesson, but a cultural one as well. I had to go to my job yesterday just to check in and sign some foreigner papers. (I know, it was a horrible hour as the stamp of anti-local came smashing down page after page, reminding me of the fact that I do not congressionally belong). Anyways, I arrived an hour early, to make sure I found the office okay and had enough time to check myself in some reflective edifice before walking in to ensure the best first impression. In that hour, I decided to get a coffee while I waited. I walked into this café and let me set the scene. Upon entering into the café at 9 a.m., there are two men seated at two slot machines, smoking cigarettes and aggressively pulling down the handle of fate, wishing that this next play will bring about some fortunate outcome, fortunate enough to remove them from the drudge of the 9-5. Then, sitting along the counter next to them are men in suits, each with a dark colored suit, a white shirt, and a solid tie, with an espresso, toast and a side of arrogance. I walk in a mosey my way to one of the tables on the side of the café, shying away from the male domination at the counter, fearing that a small mishap will awaken some culturally abominable beast offending each and every man and his family individually.

As I took my seat, I realized something, only women were seated. It was this gender mating dance inside this café. As the male stock frantically drank their espresso and jeered each other about the trial and tribulations of providing for a family and celebrating their role as alpha males, the subservient women took some default role at the tables, allowing the males to prance around in occupation while they sat at ease perhaps gossiping about which male they were trying to attract. Noticing this divide, I immediately ran up to the counter, sat down, ordered a café con pan tostado con mantequilla and sighed. Crisis averted. I drank my espresso as I basked in the society-approved role of dominance and power. I acted busy, constantly looking at the clock, further delving into this charade of sorts. I felt respected, I felt a part. I left the same amount as the guy next to me, without asking for my bill, because locals know prices and are not bothered by the formalities of checks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

One night, one invite

Going out alone requires two hours. The first half hour demands the unrequited self-confidence. The ego that Niezche never encountered because its strength mauled any decrepit foe. You ask someone for directions not because you're lost but because you want exert your authority to the common man. You anticipate the walk sign and J-walk because you are so frustrated by the everyday life of Madrid's social scene that waiting a second longer at the cross-walk could mean social suicide. It is this aura that you must exude in order to portray superiority. It is that same superiority that you hope inflicts self-conscious thoughts on others because putting them in that defensive doubt boosts your reputation if solely be comparison. Back to that first half-hour. The reason why this part is so crucial is because it presents first impressions. You may be sitting alone, you may be sitting alone for a while, but fear not my friend because the unprecedented self-doubting will subside if given the necessary sustenance. So you obviously are going to be sitting alone and unlike when you are in your home town, you mustn't look at your phone or sit with closed-off body language. On the other hand, you cannot have staring contests with every other person at the bar, pining for attention, exhibiting your insatiable longing to be received and fit in. Sit with an open stance, and make eye contact with anyone you find intriguing and then once the contact has been made, give it a second and look away. The secret is bartenders. They are basically paid to interact and they are the perfect prey for your predatory need for engagement. All it takes is one person to open up to you and you are in.

Then comes the balancing act of the next hour. You have now landed the bartender's attention or someone else you've engaged by talking about being a foreigner or the last games of the world cup, but you cannot settle. Some may stop at the first friend and call it quits, bathing in the safety net small victories, but it's the battle that must be won. You need to find reasons to leave the group without losing their attention. Bathroom visits are key. You need to be available but not clingy, which is easier said than done considering you are alone in a foreign country, but stay true to the method.

I had to laugh when, for my first night out, I got invited to a barbecue. This is why traveling on your own is amazing. This group of people asked me about my travels and who I was traveling with. Once they found out that I was a lone maverick, quickly thereafter came the invitation. One person is so unassuming, presents no surprises, and limits any variables on clashing personalities or expectations. Everyone has a barbecue with a loser that's invited, so worse comes to worse, you're the loser. I declined the invitation because I did not see this friendship lasting long term, but appreciated the gesture. I went home at around 6 a.m. (one of the firsts to leave) and felt satisfied with my engagements but let down by my closing game. I did get a few contact numbers, but no real connections. It takes one, and having done this before, I know when to sift through the fillers. I will probably send a text to one on Monday, considering she works retail and offered me a whopping 10% off. I'll go, stop by, maybe pick up a t-shirt, give us something in common, establish a connection and bounce. I laugh because the formula works and it works well. Having this be my fourth summer alone in a new city, I'm used to it.

Best part of the day: Moving into my grandmother decorated hostel for the next 1o days and waiting for the arrival of Caitlin Oyler and Indiana Porta.

Worst part of the day: Walking to the hostel, dragging my suitcases through the streets. Nothing tastes worse than tourism.

Advice: Smile, engage, trust in the formula with patience.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Arriving In Madrid

The hardest thing about going out by yourself in Europe is that you have to wait until 1 a.m. just to get out the door. As if anxiety doesn't weasel itself into the mental turpitude of my being every minute, but in this situation it is able to amalgamate into this impenetrable fence of doubt. But I shall, said Jesus as he did something in the bible. Regardless, I am beyond ecstatic to go out tonight and see the sights. I have a been here since 7 a.m. this morning and have already accomplished a lot of tasks. It is interesting, and some friends have found it to be particularly characteristic of my personality, but traveling pushes me further than any other stimulant. Something about the severe fear of missing out that I have, self-diagnosed of course, but it ignites this trick birthday candle of motivation under me that cannot be extinguished.

I allowed myself the luxury of having one night in a good hotel room and bed in order to start my trip with a clean body, clean mind and clean slate. It is a little ironic how, in about 12 hours, that body will become tarnished with sweat and smoke, that mind will be polluted with guilt and shame and that slate will be vandalized with indiscretion and impurity with the night streets of Madrid. I would not have it any other way.

I am pretty much all set for my week off before I start work on June 1st. I am going to have some visitors for a few days and have the rest of the week to get my sea legs and gather my madrileño wits about me, which will be a good way to get any distractions out of my system. This job is crucial, the pivotal fulcrum of responsibility that must tip towards my future. The very second it begins to teeter back into the cave of insurmountable failure, I will push and I will overcome.

This blog is for me, this blog is for the office worker, this blog is for expanding horizons the way I know how, without a net. This will document the journey of how one person, unidentifiable and out of place, attempts to shed the skin of abhorred anonymity and wade in the effervescent tide of assimilation.