Monthly Archives: May 2013

What really annoys me….

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It was inevitable that this post would appear sooner or later. Anyone living away from their homeland will find something to whine about, amid the novelty of daily sunshine and new experiences. You usually find that people will diss the same things.

So, I am in Madrid, the capital of Spain. Life is ‘fast’ here; as fast a slug that has spent the night in a bong. Ok, I speak hyperbole, but people rush more in northern, provincial York than in this European capital. NO ONE runs for the Metro, even though the service has been reduced and you can wait up to 10 minutes for a train in the evenings, up to 15 at night. Some us can’t be late for work, not when we have a class waiting to be taught. Which brings me nicely to my first gripe…People here have NO spatial awareness. I’m speed walking through the packed streets, trying to squeeze a 10minute walk into a 5 minute one. Couples, groups, individuals clutter the pavements like time doesn’t exist. I veer left to go round them. They veer left. I veer right; someone walks into my path from the opposite direction. NOBODY EVER moves even slightly aside for you; YOU have to move for THEM. I wonder how people are not constantly colliding into each other.  Inside, I scream, “GET OUT of my way! Get out of my  fucking way!” and then my students tell me that Madrid is fast-paced. Yeah right, what a load of old cojones.

There is one exception to this Spanish lack of rush, and that is when it comes to toilets in bars, cafes, school etc. There is only one ladies’ loo at work, and in the evening there’s always a rush for it between classes. Just as I start to relieve myself, there is, without fail, frantic knocking at the door. The door is locked; doesn’t that tell you that it the loo is ocupado? Do you really need to knock and rattle the handle like there’s a axe-murderer chasing after you? “Si?” I shout. No reply, just more hectic hammering. Jesus, I think, with my kecks round my knees, is something wrong? “SI?!” I shout, louder this time. The knocking continues and I toy with the very tempting idea of yelling, “FUCK OFF! Just fuck off and let me piss in peace!” But I figure I would rapidly be forced to join Spain’s 27% unemployed if I take this route. So instead, I take my own sweet (Spanish) time while I wee. Ha! Take that. As I unlock the door, I am confronted by four teenage girls. “Is there a problem?” I ask calmly. I’m gonna flush your head down the loo if you do that tomorrow. “No,” they answer. No. Of course there’s not a problem; no axe murderer after you, just you, Spanish you with your ‘fast’ setting  that is only activated by a full bladder. “OK,” I reason, “when the door is locked you don’t need to keep knocking, just wait.” “OK,” they barely nod, and I think that they haven’t understood me.

The next day, I wee, sans persistent knocking on the door. Thank you.

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Gothic Europe

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Prague, 2009

Another European city, another suitcase crammed into a cupboard; another room with bare white walls waiting to be blu-tacked with photos. Another transport system to navigate; more bizarre customs and frowns to become familiar with. Another set of colleagues to become comfortable with; more wild nights out to be had; weekends wasted recovering while trying to absorb art or history through an emotional hangover. Highs, simply from being a part of the fairytale cityscape that surrounds you; for being so brave to drop everything and venture there alone. Lows that crash down around you when you need a lazy Sunday in England, where the paper will not cost you the equivalent of £4.80 for a skimpy international version. Many, many moments that whisper, scream, “What the FUCK?! What the fuck is that? What the fuck are people eating? WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE?!!!”

And when you calm down, you remember why the fuck you left your country, again. It is the endless addiction of the traveller, the daydreamer, always wishing to be somewhere else and impulsive enough to act on the whim. Always missing someone, some place, something. Chasing and living the dreams that everyone else leaves as moving pictures in their minds. Not you; you have to follow them, to be able to say, “When I lived in Madrid…When I flew home from Prague…” And everyone, everyone back ‘home’ is always delighted to see you. You are the adventurer, the story-teller, drinking with your friends in the 600 year old pub, where everyone has remained since you left. You, who have been away so long, away and back, always wanting to settle, to call a place home. And you are desperate to run when you realise you are in that place.

It must be screamo….

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knew that there was a good reason why I decided to share a bathroom with Mario- even though he uses my toothpaste…There’s some pretty intense screamo music coming from the bathroom next to ours. That can only mean that Paco is on the crapper. Precisely how anyone can enjoy screamo is a mystery to me.

However, maybe it does serve a purpose after all; it can literally annoy the shit out of you.

Salsa (written May 2008)

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We made quite an entrance at the party. Unintentionally, of course. Not owning anything white, we were all flouting the “Wear a white top” instruction for a start. The apartment was packed with short, stocky, Latin-American men, clad in white shirts contrasting with their exotic skins. We were white enough. Claire was freckled with fiery red hair; Helen, also freckled, had straight, fair locks. I had jet-black curls and porcelain pale skin. Not knowing what to expect, and wondering if we’d be able to speak with anyone, we hovered around the drinks.  Alcohol, the greatest of all social lubricants. Unless you live in Saudi Arabia.

For a while after our entrance, the room was divided into Salsa-dancing Latin Americans, and us. Stereotype central. To me it seemed that they were having way more fun on the crowded ‘dancefloor’ than we were, chatting by the drinks table, clutching our rum and cokes. “Sod this,” I announced. The girls flicked curious glances at me. Ever the lover of dancing, I made my way to a friendly looking, though not particularly attractive guy. He put out his hand, “Yo no puede bailar la Salsa,” I attempted in sober Spanish, which is a far less eloquent dialect than intoxicated Spanish. Apparently, it didn’t matter. There was nothing for it but to get into the swing of it.  I knew my friends were watching me as I cast off the shackles of Englishness. It wasn’t long before Helen was dancing with a different guy. Eventually, Claire joined us. Finally, some guy who suffered from verbal diahorrea (not far removed from average Spanish conversational habits) drove her to seek out a dance partner from sheer earache. Gradually the room mixed like coffee and cream. Despite outward appearances, I was actually the shyest of my friends. It was only the high rum count in my bloodstream that allowed me to accept the passionate kisses of a hot guy whose name I couldn’t remember the next day.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts that night, I suffered from some typically English behaviour. Propelled by the escalating high from salsa, alcohol and hot guys, I accepted offers of drinks until the room spun. I was oblivious to the fact that everyone except us and the people whose apartment we were in had left the party. It was 5am, a normal night in Madrid, so time to go. We left amid protests and offers of more rum, or a tequila shot. “Pretty English girls! Stay and dance!” Outside, the fresh air played its favourite game, making me giggle hysterically, become weak at the knees and embrace the pavement. At this point, you know who your friends are. Oh, I knew who they were, Goddess bless them.  I just didn’t know who I was.

The next afternoon I awoke with the devil’s after-party in my head and a shipwreck in my stomach. I tried to remember what had happened. I was alone, of course. After all, I’m the shy one. I was wearing last night’s sexy outfit, now crumpled, but had somehow managed to remove my contact lenses. I’m always baffled as to how I manage to do that. I turned to my room. Coins lay scattered all over the floor. Taxi fare? Before even contemplating getting up, I called Claire.

“What happened?” I asked. Laughter.

“You’re a dead weight girlie!”

“What?”

“Are you up? Look at your knees!” I moved my knees towards me and observed large purple bruises on both of them. “Ow, guess I hit the deck? Forgot to tell you, that sometimes happens. I think I’m still drunk.”

“Haaaa! Us too! Cinema later?”

“I’ll let you know. I’m gonna vom now, I think. Text me later. Thanks for getting me home.”

“No worries hun. Feel better soon.”

“Hope so. Later.”

Drinking on an empty stomach is never wise. Less so when you’re as small as I am. After relieving myself of last night’s poison, I remembered the fun party I was now paying for. The memory was of another world, a magical night when we could all speak fluent Spanish and dance Salsa effortlessly. Now I could barely speak English. There’s only one place you can go in cases like this. Bed.

“I was a woman”

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I join the gym and would like to go swimming. Before I can go, I need to be bikini ready, so I pop to my local hair and beauty salon.

I am drawn in the gay friendly rainbow in the doorway; can’t go anywhere that wouldn’t serve my sister if she visited. I quickly realise that there are only two guys working there. This could be tricky for what I need. “Are there any girls who work here?” I ask in Spanish.

“No.”

“OK. I need a wax and I’d prefer a girl,” I hesitate.

‘No girls work here, but I was,” the young guy attempts in English. I was? A diamond earring in each ear and pristine eyebrows. Definitely gay, but surely not transgender?

“You? You were a woman?” I have to ask. I HAVE to ask.

“No, no, I wass! I make the wass!”

Riiiiiiiiiiiiight! “You do the wax? Vale, ok, bien!” He does the waxing. He didn’t use to be a woman. Well, you never know. Madrid is pretty open-minded for  a Catholic capital.

“OK, gracias, but I prefer a girl.”

Gay or not, even I am not liberal enough to have a guy do something that intimate for me!

Compañeros de Piso

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So, I have two flatmates; both guys, both 24 year old students. On paper it sounds nightmarish. The lying landlady told me that a Spanish girl who is not a student is moving in. Two weeks later and she hasn’t appeared, so it’s just me and the chicos.

At first it was just Mario and I, as Paco was away for Easter (better change names, though I doubt they’ll be reading this). Mario is Sicilian, and when I first arrived he talked to me so much that it delayed my unpacking by about 40 minutes. Despite being warned by a friend that Italian men would expect me to clean up after them, I decide to share a bathroom with Mario, rather than the Spanish guy whom I had not yet met.  When looking for space to stash my  stuff in the shower, I start to wonder about Sicilian gender roles when I see that Mario has more products in the bathroom than I do. I try not to think about where he uses the Nair hair removal cream that hangs in a carrier bag in the shower…

On the first night we go for cañas in the buzzing La Latina, the barrio we live in. As it’s just the two of, I buy the second beer. “In Sicily, it is very hard for a man to let a woman do this,” Mario informs me. “One of the downsides of feminism,” I reply. “In theory I should I also hold the door open for you, but I’m not going that far!” So he uses Nair in the shower, but finds it hard to let me buy him a €1 caña? Hmm, Italians. The evening passes easily in a rounds of story-telling and laughter, and I find it hard to believe that this morning I did not even know this guy. I am relieved that he is not the problem flatmate that the lying landlady had implied him to be.

The next day, Mario is cooking pasta with tuna and offers me some. Who am I to refuse pasta from an Italian? When I sit down I see enough pasta on my plate to feed a baby elephant. Of course, having other Italian friends, I expected this, but I am relieved when Mario has to leave early for football: “Just leave what you can’t eat and I’ll eat it later.” God forbid that an Italian should let pasta go to waste! Plus, he’s a student, and I’m pretty sure we ate whatever was on the go back then, too. “Do not wash ANYTHING!” he adds as he leaves, “I will do it when I come home.” So, he cooks a lot of pasta: one point for the stereotype. When he arrives home later, he does all the washing up: one point against.

After several 3am bedtimes, I decline Mario’s offer to go out again, and have an early night instead. I am woken at 6am by laughter as Dani and his friend arrive home. I get back under the duvet and reach for my earplugs. Before I have the chance to push them into my ears, I hear the sound of a girl enjoying herself in Mario’s room next door. REALLY enjoying herself. I may not always act my age, but I’m not teenage enough to be disgusted by people shagging in the next room. What I find slightly objectionable is that Mario’s girlfriend, whose photos are plastered all over his room, is in Italy. I do not see him until early afternoon the next day, when his sheets are in the washing machine. So, he cooks, he cleans, he struggles to let a girl buy him a drink, but he is an Italian stallion after all. A few days later, I recall that I didn’t hear Mario; I only heard a girl’s sighs. Maybe it was porn. Who knows? Who cares?

I can’t help but enjoy living with Mario.