Friday, September 30, 2005

Finkin' Delicious.

Today, I finally ate at La Finca de Susana. This was my third attempt to do so in as many weeks. Last week's attempt was interrupted by the fact that my bicycle was finally done being built, and the previous week's by the restaurant's having been full for the rest of the evening (granted, we did get there at 10:00.

I ate caramelized duck with plums and mushrooms, served with couscous. For dessert, I had the postre de Timbaon, which my brother had recommended that I have. The postre is a slice of nougat-flavored ice cream with crema catalana on top of it. The crema is caramelized on top, and the whole thing is served in a pool of chocolate sauce. Delicious.

This all came out to a couple of Euro cents over 13 Euros, after taxes. Delightful.

Before that, I spent a few not-so-quality hours at the Biblioteca Nacional. I looked at one manuscript and one printed text. The printed text was a complaint letter to the king about the regressive taxation for silk production imposed upon post-expulsion (morisco, not Jewish expulsion) Granada, that pointed out that the trade restrictions being imposed upon the Kingdom (they weren't allowed to trade silk with anyone at that point. Not even Castille) were, causing the entire population to suffer. While pre-expulsion Granada had 15,000 people engaged in silk production and trading, few were left afterwards. Anyhow, this did of course cause quality and price to suffer, and whatnot. If I had found something exciting on where all of this activity had been housed for example, and how that changed, this would have been a very exciting text. But as it was, eh. But at least I understood what it was saying.

The manuscript I looked at, I may have been looking at it upside-down, for all I know. The digital record claims that it was a "carta ejecutoria de cristianos viejos" (um, I forget what the rest of the title was; I have it on file somewhere) from Granada in 1611. I figured that since my thesis consists of my looking at the urban effects of the 1609-1614 morisco expulsion from Granada, I should look at this document (cristianos viejos being the opposite of moriscos.) All I can say about the text is this: it is on parchment, with a neat cover that closes by means of a leather toggle. And I think that I might know how to tell p from y. I think I may have seen a d or two in there as well. I also think that I managed to read the word "magestad" at some point in the first two lines of the text. And that's it. If the thing had a title, I couldn't find it. I looked through it for, you know, maybe a list of some sort so that I could maybe tell what was going on, but no such luck.

I'm going to Toledo tomorrow with a bunch of Fulbright folks, and I should get some sleep.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


So, I'd been walking over to the BN on Tuesday and Wednesday (I didn't go on Monday because, as you will recall, I wasted the entire day looking at substandard apartments.) I hadn't seen anywhere to park a bicycle around (you know, poles, bike racks) on either day, so yesterday (Wednesday), I asked around at the National Library. The woman downstairs in the exhibit section told me to ask security upstairs, and the security guard at the desk told me to ask the security guy at the outermost desk, so at some point I did. "I haven't been riding my bike here because I don't know if there's anywhere to park it. Is there?" (or something along those lines. In Spanish, of course.)

"Yeah, at the corner of the gated area, by a guard kiosk, there's a rack. You can park your bike there. Make sure to lock it up, though, even though they're right across from it."

So today I ride my bicycle up to the library, and right up to the bike rack. There are no bikes parked there, but there are two scooters locked to it. It's maybe ten percent full.
"This is private parking. You can't park here," says a guard to me from the guard kiosk.

"But I asked yesterday if there was bike parking, and the guard inside told me that there was."
Anyhow, the guard calls his boss, who I guess tells him that I can't park there, because he told me that I couldn't park there, not even for the day, so I lock my bike up outside to a metal railing that was a) really low, b) only an actual, closed, stable piece for maybe a foot, and c) right outside the BN.

Anyhow, I go in and ask the guard at the desk (who I don't think was the same one from yesterday. All of the guards at the BN look the same, except for the mutton-chopped, tattooed, Rockabilly guard), who calls over a supervisor because I asked if he could, who I tell that I'd asked the day before and that I really didn't want to keep my bicycle locked somewhere unsafe, and to make a long story short he tells me that he'll make an exception. For today. "If we let you park your bike here, we'll have to let everyone park their bikes here. If there are 600 people in the library and 10% of them rode bikes here, that would be 60 bikes, " he says. I've seen maybe four cyclists a day here (not counting, of course, those at the Vuelta and UCI World Championships), and it turns out that 0% of total trips in Madrid are made by bicycle. Sheesh.

Anyhow, so I get to park up my bicycle, and they register my library card at the guard kiosk, and I sit in the General Reading Room and look through the secondary sources I've let myself get stuck in for the past few days instead of looking at some nice manuscripts. I stayed until nine, when the place closed, because I didn't get there until pretty late, since I spent the morning looking at apartments, one of which was actually, maybe, liveable. So I leave, and the security supervisor, who had allowed me to park my bike for the day, was outside by the bike racks with a sadistic grin of some minor triumph on his face. "You didn't ask yesterday. I checked. You didn't ask the guard who was there when you entered the library at 1:30 and you didn't ask the one who was there when you left at 7:30." a) The guy had nothing better to do that to look up when I arrived at and left the library!?, b) He asked the guards who had been working at those specific times whether or not I'd asked them if I could park there?!, and c) He waited for me or somehow made sure to be outside when I left the library?!

"Um, yes, I'm pretty certain that I did. Thanks," I said. And then I left.

Who are these people?

a) Until yesterday, when I asked the guard, I had no idea that there were any bike racks around. Anywhere. In Madrid. b) Why would someone (namely, me) make up having asked if there was a bike rack around that I could use? I could understand the guard lying about having been asked, or having told me that yes, of course there was, in order to avoid getting in trouble, but I fail to understand why anyone would make up having been told that it was possible to park a bike somewhere in order to, the next day, tell that to the supervisor in order to get permission to park there. Ridiculous.

It took me, by the way about forty minutes, all told, to unlock my bike, ride it home, and take it upstairs. It takes about thirty minutes to walk. I'll explain later, but sheesh.

I'm really sleepy now, but apparently the landlady (landlord's sister) has had a change of heart. I attribute this mostly to her realizing that it is, in fact, illegal for her to kick me out, which my mom suspected might happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Update: too much to do, too little time.

Let's see:
On Saturday, I rode my bicycle. I went to an unspecified point in SW Madrid (I'm not sure exactly where I was, but when I asked how far Fuenlabrada was, someone said it was only about ten miles--I sent my friends who live there a text message, but they were about to go running, so I didn't ride all the way down there.) I rode through the Retiro park, and then went to look at a place to live.

The place, of course, was horribly unsuitable: to enter the room, you have to move the couch. And then the room doesn't have any windows. I don't know about you all, but in my world that counts as a closet, and while I have no qualms about living in a small room, I cannot possibly live in a room without a window. This room, however, was not only substandard in its lack of ventilation, but in its lack of access. Seriously, if there were ever a fire in that place, firemen would never in a million years think to look for anyone's charred remains there.

On Sunday, I rode over to the UCI World Championship Road Race, and took a bunch of pictures: one of me with a bunch of Italians who had painted their faces red-white-green, one of a bunch of Norwegians dressed as vikings, one of some of the guys from the Slovakian national team in front of their team vehicle, one of Tom Boonen when he passed about three feet away from me, and one of myself at the finish line. Then I rode past the Bull Ring at Las Ventas to look at another place to live, and while the flat itself was nice, the girl who interviewed me seemed a little ... skinny. Oh, and veiny. Oh, and there was a spoon in the ashtray. So, um, there's no way that I'm living there.

On Monday, I went and saw a room in the building (actually, in a building on the spot where the building was) where Cervantes used to live. This one had no window either, and while the flat itself was pleasant, the windowlessness of it is a major deterrent. The flat was gorgeous, though, and it's in a nice neighborhood, and again, Cervantes used to live there. But I texted the landlord that while I appreciated the opportunity, that I would not be taking the room. (It's the window thing.) I saw a couple of other rooms, too, I forget where and whatnot, but none of them suited, for some reason or another. I also went to the Fulbright office where Patricia consoled me and tried to help me find a place to live. I don't really want to leave where I already am, though. For me to leave, I would want to be as or more conveniently located (by which I mean I basically want to roll out of bed to the Plaza Mayor, or Sol, or the Prado), I don't want to be more than 50 meters farther from a metro than I already am (there's a metro a block and a half away), and I don't want to pay more than I already am (I pay 350) or have less space (I have two rooms; while neither is huge, neither is tiny.) Oh, and I want to live somewhere where people don't smoke in the house.

So I went to see a lawyer at the ayuntamiento's consumer affairs office yesterday who told me that I can just stay put, since I have a lease, and that there's nothing that the lady can do to make me leave. This relieves me, on the one hand. On the other, it makes me a little nervous, being as the vieja jodida who's throwing me out lives in the apartment itself. I figure that in the best case scenario, what happens is that whoever she's signed a new lease with ends up being allowed to live in the house as well, and the landlady has to move back to whatever pueblito infeliz she's from.

Oh, and today I mailed a copy of my lease to a friend by certified mail, being as the lawyer I spoke to yesterday was worried that since the lease wasn't actually signed on every page, that the landlady would change it to include a clause about bicycles being explicitly not allowed.

I'm at the National Library (BN) right now, and I really should get back to work. The thing is, the wireless connection in the building was "upgraded" a few days ago, and now the connection in my room is crappy. Grumble.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Piso vs. bicycle

So, I wrote the landlady (actually, the landlord's sister, I don't know what the difference in legal classification would be, being as she is the one who signed the rental contract, so as far as I can tell she serves as the landlord's proxy) a note telling her that I would be willing to protect the walls from the bicycle, pay an extra deposit, whathaveyou, and she told me on Saturday morning that there was no way that she would/could talk to her brother about it, and that since I had paid through the end of the month, that I would just have to leave then.

I asked the presidente de la comunidad (the co-op board president) if I could keep a bicycle in the patio, and he said, "why don't you just keep it inside your apartment?"

It looks like I'll have to explore the (what I'm told are extremely tenant-favorable) intricacies of the Tribunales de Madrid. I'm not engaging in any activities that are illegal or industrial, so I'm clear on that count. There's no way I'm leaving this place by the end of this month, first of all, and second of all, as far as I can tell, the tenant is the only one capable of, with no legal reason, getting out of the rental agreement.

I'll keep you all updated.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ready to roll.

My bicycle is ready and I feel like a fully-functional human being again. My feet have been getting tired from all of this walking, I've been getting really impatient at having to take the metro everywhere, and frankly, I just prefer cycling.

I haven't taken any pictures with the Surly yet. (I picked it up from the bike shop at 9 pm, and rode it to meet a couple of friends at a restaurant downtown--we were going to eat at La Finca de Susana, but that effort was again thwarted, this time by my having to go pick the cycle up. It turns out that bike shops here, or at least the one where I had my bike built up, are closed all weekend. I digress.)

The LHT is pretty weird looking; the wheel base is long (it is a touring frame, after all) and there's a lot of space between the wheel and the seat tube, which is pretty much the opposite of my Giant. Also, while the frame is a pea-soup green, the Roox stem that's on it is orange; they don't quite match, but I think that they look fine. Also, despite my having wanted silver-colored componentry, the large chainring is black, ditto the bar tape, the wheel rims, the spokes (I know that I could have asked for metal-colored rims and spokes, which would have been nice, but I was starting to get antsy at my lack of a bicycle), and the bottle cages (they put those on the bike and didn't charge me for them, so I didn't want to complain and ask for metal-finished ones instead.) The cable housing is silver-colored though, which makes me really happy.

Anyhow, I take the bicycle home, and ask the landlady (who is the landlord's sister) if she wants to see my bicycle. "You can't have a bicycle here," she says. So we'll see what happens. Maybe I'll have to move, I don't know. I cut up a large IKEA bag and put it under the wheels, and the rest of the bag covers the cushion on my armchair, so that the rear derailleur and chainrings won't get anything dirty. Would I rather have a bicycle and a crummy place to live than this awesome place and no bicycle? Hell, yes. I'd rather stay here, but if I have to move, I have to move. Also, I know that I told her that I had a bicycle, and I'm pretty sure that she saw the frame and fork in my room (back when they were just a frame and fork), and I don't know why she somehow hadn't gotten that I'd be having a bicycle here, especially since I know that I mentioned that I'd be having one built up.

Did she expect me to keep it parked in the street? This leads me to another point: There's nowhere to lock bikes up here! Street poles are few and far between, and bike racks are non-existent. I see an occasional sad-looking stripped bicycle here and there, but for the most part cycles (the few that there are) seem to be ridden and not parked anywhere. Maybe there are spots for them in public parking lots?

Tomorrow is the UCI World Cycling Road Championship; I may ride out there to watch (if I wake up early enough.) One really funny thing that happened, though, is that, as Jenica, Evelyn, Rebecca, and I were walking back towards the Puerta del Sol, from which two of us woudl walk/ride home, and from which the other two woudl take the metro, this guy comes up to us, and was in some sort of awe. He asked me if I would be riding tomorrow, and I told him yes, and the guy went crazy, and was calling his friends over. And that's when I realized that he thought that I was racing. So I told him, oh, no, no no no, not that, I'll just be riding around. But I don't think that he believed me.

There were, in the relatively short period of time between the restaurant and the Puerta del Sol, a total of three people (all of them male, I might add) who came up to me for bicycle-related matters. The first guy asked if he could borrow the bike, which I guess he thought was pretty funny, but I was seriously scared that the poor bicycle would never see the light of day (having taken its maiden voyage in the evening, from the Plaza Argentina over to La Castillana, over through Chueca, and finally to the Seville metro stop, where the restaurant where I met my friends was.) The second guy caressed the bicycle a lot, and lamented his bicycles always getting stolen. he also commented on how clean the bicycle was, and fingered the chain. The bicycle does look really new, I supppose. I'll remedy that soon. I don't want to get the poor bicycle looking grubby, but the chain is ridiculously clean right now.

On a final note, since the Surly takes 26" wheels, and the top tube is pretty much flat (the exact geometry can be found here), it looks like a scaled-down version of a much taller person's bicycle, which I really, really like. I'll post photos, as soon as I take some.
On two wheels. Almost.

The past couple of days have been a lot of the same, to the extent that every day this week except today I've had lunch in the BN cafeteria, for the past three days I've gotten a coffee or hot chocolate from the BN vending machines, and I've had cereal for dinner.

I've read a bit. Not a lot, but a bit, and I think I'm getting myself fairly organized.

The exciting thing is, though: I get to pick my bicycle up tonight. Maybe. I stopped byt he bike shop and they needed to put a different derailleur on it than they had, but they expected it to be ready by the time they closed tonight. Which I hope it is, since they close all weekend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Research report: on the quirks of the Biblioteca Nacional

I'm going to give up on the idea of getting to the library before noon; since the library closes at nine, I can put in my hours without having to disturb my nocturnal schedule.

The library, I don't know if I've mentioned, has a smoking area (not an enclosed room, just an area) immediately before the rare books and manuscripts section. In this area, there is a sign that looks just like a "No Smoking" sign, except that the cigarette is not crossed out. In this area, there is a coffee machine, of which I availed myself today. It shoots out a little cup, spoon included, of barely drinkable coffee. There are many options to choose from, though, and the BN isn't exactly in a neighborhood with a lot of dining options, so, really, the coffee machine and the cafeteria are the only games in town.

To get to look at books, you go through the standard-issue metal detector, go to the security desk, show them your researcher card, and have them scan the barcode that they've placed on your computer (it's a little weird but makes me feel alright about leaving the computer unsupervised while I take a break, since you have to have it scanned both going in and leaving, and they seem pretty rigorous about checking that the name on their computer screen matches up with the research i.d. card.) Once you've gotten to the appropriate room (I've been working in the Cervantes room, which is the rare book and manuscript room), you trade your researcher card in for a laminated plastic card with a number on it; the number tells you your assigned seat. To page a book, you fill up a card, fill up a piece of paper, have the librarian who works in the next room over sign the card, hand the card in, and sit and wait. In the General Reading Room, there are lights built into the desks, and the light in your desk flashes when your book is ready; in the Cervantes room, they bring the book out to you. Yesterday, my manuscript request only took a couple of minutes. Today, they took their sweet time in getting the folders (one from the early seventeenth century, one from the late) out.

I decided to take it easy today and not look at any manuscripts; I really should get a paleography guide (apparently, there are many out there) before tacking those wordknots again. I read through a 1614 text on tax easements granted to the nobility of the Kingdom of Valencia who were cash-poor from the lack of moriscos to work their lands, and one from Granada in 1687 about a pretty similar topic. Carlos Rojas (at Emory) as well as James Monroe (at Berkeley) have, in the various classes that I've taken with them, pointed out the land-wealth and cash-poverty problems of the Spanish nobility that precipitated the crises of the seventeenth century.

That's all for now; I imagine that my bicycle'll be ready to go in a couple of days, at the latest.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Research Report: Day One

It took me a while to get out of bed and get myself over to the AHN (National Historical Archives) today, but I did have enough time to get somewhat oriented and find in their indices a couple of manuscripts that I'll need to look at.

After the AHN closed (it closes at two until October), it was off to the Biblioteca Nacional for lunch (there's a reasonably-priced cafeteria) and some sleeping ... er, reading. The thing is, it's warm in there. Also: the chairs are uncomfortable. And (and I had forgotten this minor detail): handwriting from the seventeenth century is extra-curly and, to say the least, difficult to read. I managed to make out that a) some poor sucker who was being expelled from Spain in 1609 didn't have any property worth seizing, and that b) a bunch of people in Seville were not in possession of any contraband when their houses were inspected.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The weekend update: on not going out in Spain ...

This is my first weekend at my new place, which, I don't know if I've mentioned, is in a pretty happening neighborhood (La Latina.) My new place also has wireless, about which I'm overjoyed, as it means that I can whittle away my time doing things like talking to everyone over computer-based telephony. I like the word telephony.

To celebrate a) having a place, and b) getting over jet lag (finally, I think), I stayed in. By this, I mean that I got home at no later than two in the morning on both Friday and Saturday. Today (Sunday), I had a fellow-Fulbrighter friend (who lives just four or five blocks away) over for dinner. Being as pretty much everything is closed in Spain on Sundays, however, I didn't have much in the way of ingredients. I did, however, have the fixins for crêpes, and one of my flatmates lent me a can of mushrooms and an onion so that they wouldn't have to be cheese-only. I had trouble with the can opener, but Rebecca figured it out.

Back to the weekend's activities, though, for anyone who actually wants a blow-by-blow. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I had a hard time finding a place; part of that difficulty was due to my impending departure for Morocco in early December, and peoples' reluctance to rent to someone for such a short period of time. I'm actually signed on to the place in which I am now through the end of December 2006, and will need to find someone for the eight months that I'll be in Morocco. The point of this, though, is that in my hunt for a place, I responded, at one point, to an ad placed by an American living here who needed two housemates; his landlord wouldn't allow a short-term tenant, but we emailed back and forth, and decided to meet up for cañas on Friday, which turned into plans to meet up for dinner. The Finca de Susana was full for the evening, so we wandered to La Latina and walked from bar to bar looking for one that had both space to actually sit down, but which wasn't abandoned (a bad sign in a neighborhood so full of bars, no?)

What's funny about all this is that, as we're walking around, Corey keeps running into friends of his, who invariably asking if he'll be going out that evening. He keeps saying no, and that he has plans to just stay in tonight. At this point, it's well into the evening: the point of this is that a different notion of lateness exists in Spain.

Anyhow, where we ended up eating, we ordered a cheese plate, salmon/brie toast, and mushrooms in caramel sauce (served in a casserole dish; the sauce wasn't so much a sauce as a broth). The mushrooms were delicious; I wouldn't have thought to pair them with caramel, but, in the off chance that I should ever happen to find that restaurant again (it's somewhere within a three-block radius of my house), and happen to be hungry, I will order those again. The sauce wasn't super-sweet, and had some caramelized onion bits in it.

On Saturday, I went to the Reina Sofia Museum with Matt, another Fulbrighter who lives in the neighborhood, to catch the last couple of days of the Juan Gris exhibit. And then it was off to Fuenlabrada, for a get-together thrown by yet another Fulbrighter. Fuenlabrada will get its own entry, in the foreseeable future. The short version of the story is: it's an hour and a half away. And: it actually ended up taking about four hours to get to the party, from the moment of boarding the metro to the moment of finding the building where shindig actually was.

Today (Sunday) was the final stage of the Vuelta a España. I don't follow sports, but the opportunity to go see a major cycling event with little effort is appealing, and I still haven't gotten over not having seen the Giro de Colombia on the day that it was departing from Popayán when I was there last year ...
I took a couple of (blurry) photos of the peloton. The race itself wasn't all that interesting to watch, since the portion of the course there was so flat and the riders whizzed by; the Giro di San Francisco is much more fun (turns! hills!) Mostly, it was a lot of waiting.

Tomorrow, I begin research.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

_ /^;

My trip to the bicycle shop today was none too productive. After a week of waiting I have, well, a frame and a fork. The shop that I had found (over the internet; the other alternative at the time was the bike shop at a department store) is a _hike_ away from where I live; there are at least two shops that are much closer, one of which is much bigger, and one of which, although it's been closed every time I've been by it or attempted to go to it, looks promising. Granted, they do have a posted sign of their opening hours, and I've just never been by there during their advertised opening hours.

Anyhow, to make a really long story really, really short, it would have been possible for me to have my bicycle built and ready by tomorrow. But then I would have cried every time that I looked at my bicycle, because it was going to be hideous. Hideousness is a theft deterrent, I suppose, but what I really want is all-silver-colored components and drop handlebars. What I would have ended up with was black cranks and crankarms and straight handlebars. Grumble.

My plan is to start research bright and early on Monday morning (I did already get a researcher card for the National Library; I haven't been to the National Historical Archives yet.) The archives don't even have normal hours (until 6 pm) until October, though.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


So, I'd been keeping a blow-by-blow of the new lows in Madrid housing (and had a couple to add to the list), but tonight I write to you, dear reader, from the comfort of an armchair in my sitting room/salon/study.

Last night, after having met up with my friend Matt, who's been nice enough to let me crash on the (miniature--too short even for me) couch of his (also miniature) attic apartment in La Latina, and having gotten sandwiches, my cel phone rings. It was someone with a room to show me. Since the room was on the way back to Matt's apartment, I told the woman that I would stop by within five minutes.

I saw the place and knew that this was where I needed to live.

It's a second-storey apartment with high ceilings and crown molding in an 1860s building on Calle de la Cava Alta, right off of Calle de Toledo, a block away from the La Latina metro stop. It's a hip, night-lifey district; there's a restaurant on the first floor of the building where my rooms are.

That's right, rooms. My bedroom has a window; the study (for such is its current use, as I am writing this in it) has a balcony. Neither the window nor the balcony really look out onto anything (they're interior rooms, so they're just facing light wells--they're pretty big light wells, though), but the balcony has beneath it the kitchen for said restaurant on the first floor, so a lot of good restaurant sounds and smells fill my room.

I haven't even started to unpack yet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Plains in Spain.

Sunday, September 11th (but posted on the 13th since I've been staying at a friend's sans internet.)

In 1562, when Phillip II moved the capital to Madrid, it was a sleepy little place. It’s smack dab in the middle of the country, on a slightly rolling plain (do plains roll?) It’s where the rain is, mainly, I suppose (actually, it’s not. Galicia, to the northwest, where Santiago de Compostela is, is so humid that moss grows on the sides of buildings.) It drizzled the other day. Apparently, though, Spain is having a big drought.

The river that runs through Madrid is more of a trickle (not just because of the drought), and there’s not really any sort of natural boundary to contain the place: it’s not a peninsula (like SF) or an island (like Manhattan). Instead, like Atlanta, it’s just there. Unlike Atlanta, Madrid is a city of five million people, and it oozes seven-storey brick apartment blocks into the landscape.

I went to see two pisos today, both of which were at the farthest reaches of line seven (you’ve already downloaded the Madrid metro map, yes?). The first was a smoke-filled hash den, inhabited by a couple of early-twentysomething hippies who were intently watching some sort of automobile race. There was no bed in the room, but I was told that a mattress would be produced.

The second place that I saw, just a couple of blocks from the Avda de Ilustración metro stop (but I walked there from the first place, two metro stops closer to the center), had easily the nicest room I’ve seen so far on my search. The room was a medium size, with a full-sized bed and a window. It was a full forty minute metro ride outside of the center, though, and in the middle of miles of apartment blocks. The couple renting it out was Jordanian, and other than the distance from the center, the guy smoked (not like at the first place.) The one major catch was that they didn’t want the lessee to ever have guests over. Not that guests would ever visit somewhere that inconveniently located. The search continues.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Becoming a fully-functioning member of Spanish society

Today, I acquired a mobile phone. Until today, I had been calling the mobile phone numbers of the (many) listed room rentals from a pay phone. That was not only inconvenient (while there are plenty of public phones, they aren't on every corner), but dear. I've got less than two Euros of the 12 Eurosworth of calling cards that I had bought, and believe me, I haven't talked that much.

Calling a cel. phone here is unlike calling a cel. phone in the States in that here, the caller is the only one who pays. Unlike in the States, where you pay for the minutes of the calls that you've received as well as of the calls that you've made, here you just pay to make calls, and you pay a lot. It costs something along the lines of fifty cents to just connect to a mobile from a pay phone, and then it just swallows the Eurocents like nothing.

So now that I have a phone, I can send text messages, which is what everyone here does, since it's too expensive to call. My phone is cute; it's the Alcatel OT565, which is is a camera phone. The picture quality is bad to middling. I'm on Vodafone, which I got since they're having a promotion right now in which you get double the money in minutes when you recharge the phone, and it came with 24 Euros of time on it. (I edited out some boring details of phone acquisition here.)

I looked at a windowless but expensive room off of the Plaza Mayor today that is in what is actually a really nice apartment; the catch is that the two girls who live there each get two fairly-sized rooms, and each of them has a balcony overlooking the entrance to the Plaza.) The room that's open for rent is not only more expensive than any of the individual larger rooms, but it also has no view (being windowless), and it was made pretty clear to me that the public areas in the house are actually all windowless (which is unfair of me, as there is a light well off of the kitchen. I suppose.) I'm considering it, but only as a last resort. While I did get a surplus of sun this summer, I think that I would wake up in a panic on a pretty regular basis if sleeping in a windowless room. We'll see.

I'm going to look at two places unimaginably far from the center tomorrow: both are on the farther reaches of line seven of the Madrid metro. One of them doesn't seem to be reasonably close to a metro stop at all, and I was advised to take the bus from the center rather than the metro. Since the place I'm going to look at first is reasonably (I hope) close to the metro, I'll just take the metro instead of figuring the bus out.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Churros, chocolate, tapas, IKEA, and still no piso

Orientation for Fulbright is now over. Do I feel more oriented? I don't know. Today was a holiday of some sort (I still don't know which one. I asked a friend, who had asked a friend, who said that it was the day of the Virgen of something-or-other.) Also, and I can't quite figure this out, it may have been a Madrid-specific holiday. Things were still open. Not all things, I don't think.

IKEA was open, for one. I went there with my friend Rebecca, at whose house I'm staying tonight and tomorrow night, as she has a piso right in the center of town, and her roommate is out of town, and said that I could stay there for the weekend. She bought a bunch of stuff for her room (a bedspread, a rug, a couple of pillows), and I bought a comforter, which I'd planned on, since blankets in Morocco are no good (they're too heavy; I really enjoy a mixed feather-down comforter for maximum warmth with minimum weight.) There are two IKEAS in Madrid. One is accessible by bus, and the other by metro. We went by metro, which required something along the lines of three transfers. MetroSur, a southern loop line (line 12) hangs off of the rest of the metro system, kind of like an appendix in a medical diagram. There are a couple of really-big-box stores off of the stop where the IKEA is, like Sprinter, a sports superstore, and a giant supermarket, and whatnot.

The IKEA trip took a big chunk of the day. Afterwards (and this is at some point a little past 10 pm), we grabbed dinner at a cafeteria (which is basically a bar with food), consisting of (for me) a tosta with salmon, a couple of croquetas, and a couple of canyas (I can't do the ~ over the n on this computer since it's a PC) of beer. We went to the Plaza Mayor and got churros and chocolate at the Chocolateria de Santa Gines (Ginez? It's pronounced like Ines, but spelled with a G). It's the big chocolateria/churreria by the Plaza Mayor, and apparently a big tourist destination, and has mediocre chocolate and churros (for those of you who may not know, churros are linear doughnuts with a star-shaped section.) The chocolate is pudding-thick but, I thought, the thickening agent (cornstarch? flour? I'm not sure, but I think it's the former) wasn't cooked enough, so it had a slightly gritty mouthfeel. The churros weren't as light as I think is optimal, and they were only warm-ish. That chocolateria is the only one that serves churros late into the night (maybe there are others hidden somewhere?), instead of just at breakfast, which is when Spaniards like their churros.

There's a place in Granada with churros and chocolate that are many times better than those at today's place.

Oh, and I'm still looking for a room. There are a few websites for housing around here, and I've called a bunch of places, but places fill up within hours of having been posted, so basically what I'm doing is wasting a lot of (really expensive) calling card time calling people's cel. phones. Here, you pay for calling cel. phones, or calling from them, but not at all to receive calls. Everyone sends a lot of text mesages, because they're much cheaper. I haven't gotten around to getting myself a phone yet, but think that I will tomorrow, so that I can send some SMS messages.

If anyone knows of anyone looking for a housemate in Madrid, let me know. -AV

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I faded yesterday in the middle of writing about how the current ambassador is Texan.

Today there was a walking tour from the Prado Museum to the Palacio Real (royal palace for those of you who don't speak Spanish.) Orientation is pretty much over, and I haven't found a place to live yet. I saw the most awful place yesterday; it had low ceilings, was painted an awful shade of blue, had a really big television and a pile of video games in the living room, and a pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen. And it was expensive. And in a crummy neighborhood.

I'd be perfectly fine with a great apartment in a crummy neighborhood, or a crummy apartment in a great neighborhood. I think.

At some point yesterday, when I was walking around neighborhoods looking (just looking), there was an Egyptian café, so I stopped in and asked if they knew anyone who knew anyone who had a place to rent. I'm going back there today to meet up with "Rafa," who's the former landlord of one of them, and who supposedly has an entire apartment building. The son of a friend of a friend of my mom's is trying to help me find a place, too. In short, I don't know if anything'll come through.

So, it's later now, and I went back to the Egyptian café, and Rafa was quite nice and apparently owns a building with quite a few apartments, but they're all being renovated, and the earliest anything would be available is the end of the month. I also went to see a real estate agent for a rental, and saw a really cute attic apartment that was both unfurnished and expensive (but cute.) The only problem is that I'm only going to be around for a couple of months.

I also changed my evening plans to go see a place that I'd gotten a little pull-tab for; now I know that I should ask who lives somewhere before trekking half an hour to see a room. There was an Ecuadorian family with a little girl, who was maybe four. There were lots of toys around. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and the room had an awful bunk bed in which the top bunk was at a strange height; the person in the bottom bunk could not possibly have been able to sit up. I should have just gone out with the other grad students who are heading off to all parts of Spain tomorrow. But I didn't. And I still don't know where I'm going to end up living.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

It's late. I'm hungry. And I still don't have a place to live.

I have one and a half days to find a place to live, since the orientation program here ends on the ninth in the morning. I suppose that I could stay here for a couple of days more, but it's really a ways out from the center, and it's a boys' dorm. They're hazing the freshmen, and make them do things like dance around with couch cushions in their teeth, sing, declare their undying love to whomever, and whatnot.

There were meetings up until lunch, then we had the afternoon free, and this evening there was a reception at the Fulbright office. The new US ambassador to Spain (from, guess where, that's right, Texas.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Centrally located ...

So, I'm trying to find a place to live here in Madrid until the end of October, when I head off to Barcelona for a month (unless, as mentioned before, I head to Barcelona for October and return to Madrid for November, which might be wise, as that way I could take advantage of late-season beach weather, and leave all of my winter clothes in Madrid and not worry about transporting excess baggage halfway across the country to just transport it across the Straits a month later). This is proving to be difficult: everybody wants to rent to people for a full academic year, or somesuch.

People also have strange concepts of what constitutes "close" to a metro, and "centric" zones. For me, closeness to a metro can't possibly be too much farther from a metro than Chabot is from the Rockridge BART. There are places out there that list a bunch of metro stops and say that they're close to all of them, and then later in the ad mention that the closest one is a fifteen-minute walk. There are also housing listings for centrally-located places that are a twenty-minute metro ride from the center. While Madrid is a sprawling capital city with no real natural boundaries to prevent it from spreading infinitely, when I think central, I imagine something other than identical five-storey apartment buildings as far as the eye can see. Alas.

I went to look at one place today (the first place I've seen), and it was beautiful, and less than a five-minute stroll from Sol, the 0,0 coordinate for Madrid. Of course, they wanted someone for a longer term, and it was in the middle of being fixed up and wouldn't have been available until at least the fifteenth of this month anyways. Sigh.

Monday, September 05, 2005

I'm still jet-lagged.

I'm not surprised that I'm still jet-lagged, but as far as I can tell that's the major news item for the day. Other than that, the other Fulbrighters are trickling in, and this afternoon there was a poolside mini-reception. There was sangria, beer, soft drinks, and absolutely nothing to eat. The dorm feeds us really large meals, but I was surprised at the total lack of fat or non-alcohol-containing carbs at an alcohol-based reception.

My big accomplishment today consisted of dropping the Surly frame and fork off to be built up. I had gone to the cycling department of the Corte Inglés yesterday (which I imagine differs from the American department-store bike shop in the fact that there is a mechanic there, and there are some Orbeas that are almost 2,000EUR for the frame alone.) The guy there tried to dissuade me from ever building up a steel frame. Eh.

So today I go to Ciclos Delicias (a great name for a bike shop, I think; it's located on Paseo de las Delicias, so the name is a byproduct of the street, but I like the name anyway.) The guy there doesn't want to do drop handlebars, and can't do barend shifters, so I'm getting a straight handlebar with extensions, and all Alivio components. Bike shop guy was convinced that I was crazy for wanting bar end shifters, and stated pretty explicitly that only an American would dream of such a thing in this day and age.

I would have gone for nicer components, too, but I figure that the thing'll take a beating in Morocco. Maybe. I don't know. I also should have brought the Terry saddle off of the Giant, but at the time I couldn't find the right tool for the job, and so I am saddle-less and have to get a new one. And, at the last minute, I left the panniers at home. I'll get cheapies here.

Fulbright orientation stuff officially starts tomorrow, and I should get some sleep.
In which AV arrives in Spain

After having taken not one but two red-eyes (SFO-ATL and ATL-MAD), I'm here at the Colegio Mayor Jaime del Amo, which is a glorified frat house in the university district in Madrid. It's where the Fulbright orientation is going to be, starting tomorrow.

I've brought way too much stuff, I guess. The Surly frame was my one piece of excess baggage, and I tossed a whole bunch of other things in the box with it (mostly cycling stuff), but my bigger suitcase weighed in at 67 pounds. I took the metro to the Colegio Mayor, even though I had a lot of stuff; people who were willing to wheel my huge pieces of luggage somehow materialized any time I needed to move anything.

The dorm setup that they have here is pretty nice. My room is tiny, but there's a pool, and there's wireless, which I'm using now. I've got to find a permanent place within the next few days, though, and I'm worried about that since I'll only be in Madrid for two months before heading over to Barcelona (although I'm considering making it a Madrid-Barcelona sandwich and staying here for only one month before heading to Barcelona for my month there.)

Since it's Sunday, and it's Spain, almost everything was closed today, but the Corte Inglés (a huge department store chain) was open, and I bought an alarm clock. The dorm feeds us; there was calamari salad at lunch.

I'm really sleepy, but I wanted to start writing today, just for the sake of starting writing today.