24 September 2010

good airs

There's times when posting seems like such a daunting task that I would rather just not do it. Now is one of those times. There's things I forgot to mention about Madrid, things I definitely need to say about the journey over and my arrival here, and just lots of other stuff. I'd best just get started then, huh? Here goes:

Madrid. Yes. Had a lovely time, wandered a bit, coughed up blood, saw my favourite street musicians--not the piper, surprisingly, but the string quartet that plays on Calle del Carmen next to the Corte Ingles. I sat and listened to them for about 15 or 20 minutes on Monday night while they played their standards- Pachelbel's Canon in D or whatever, some Vivaldi, and my personal favourite, Por Una Cabeza. It's a tango tune about a guy who bets on horses and loses. The chorus is something like, 'Oh silly man, you bet and lost! Didn't yo mama ever teach you that gambling is bad? Don't do it!' You might have heard it in True Lies or Scent of a Woman or just sometime in your life. Look it up, because I love it. However, I can not find a version of it anywhere that compares to the string quartet on Calle Carmen. There were times when I was just sitting there with my eyes closed, on the verge of tears. It was incredible.

Tuesday afternoon I had a not-so-incredible experience: after meeting up with my friend Erin, I went way up northwest to the La Vaguada shopping center, where one of the two Taco Bells in all of Madrid is located. I was so excited. . . so very excited. . . but of course, it couldn't compare to real, fresh, American Taco Bell. I stole a couple of packets of sauce because they said cute things in Spanish but I just happened to be carrying an awl in my purse (long story) but anyway I think you can guess how that turned out and basically I had to chuck the sauce packets within couple of hours. At least the burrito helped clear my sinuses.

Then I headed back into the town center to pick up a few items at H&M- sandals, a men's tee (only 3.95!), and a shirt to wear on the flight over. Shoulda picked up some more leggings or a sweater, because it's hella cold here. More on that later.

After that, I was essentially waiting around on Chris for a few hours by these fountains that they've got in Sol (turns out they were there all along, I just couldn't see them when I lived there because they were covered with scaffolding while they renovated the Sol Metro station), and this homeless-looking guy who was almost certainly on drugs with a hideous mullet started bugging me. I'm not sure what he wanted but he just came over and stared at me and I gave him this look like 'As if!' and he moved away. But he was just sort of creeping around for a while, changing his socks, his shirt, having a smoke right there next to the fountain.

Anyway, then Chris called and bailed on me (I'd already been waiting on him 2 hours, no big deal) so I thought, what could I do in the two hours I have free before I'm supposed to see Jeff the piper? Well, it was 7:09. And the Prado museum is free every day from 6-8. It would be roughly a 20 minute walk from where I was. . . so I started walking. And making up my own shortcuts. And wouldn't you know it, I made it there in 15 minutes.

I did the most frantic tour you can imagine, trying to see all my favourite pieces in the 30 minutes I had left. This was made difficult by the fact that they've moved some things around. El Greco's works (a lot of them, at least) are now in the main hallway, and Room 12, which houses the museum's most important piece, Las Meninas, now holds only portraits of that royal family, done by Velazquez. These are minimal details to you I'm sure, but it was a little unsettling. Anyway, I got to look over all of those pieces, and then see a lot of Goya's portraits (some of my favourite stuff of his). In particular, I love the portrait of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos and the portrait of the family of the Duke of Osuna, with the little cross-eyed kid. They also had the Naked Maja on display, which had been loaned out when I studied in Madrid, so I got to see it in person for the first time. Just being in the Prado was a wonderful experience, and it felt like I was getting to see old friends.

After they kicked me out, I headed back to the area east of Sol (Calle Victoria, Espoz y Mina, and all that) to grab a slice of tortilla and a glass of sangria at a little bar there. Then I headed back into Sol to take one last brief tour of the street performers there before meeting the piper at 9. I had just a few minutes to watch the string quartet (just a string trio that night, though, as the bald violinist with the expressive eyebrows was nowhere to be found), and wouldn't you know it, but they played Por Una Cabeza. It wasn't the same with just the three of them, but I tossed a 10 euro note into the case they had sitting out, because a) I had nickels, pennies, 2 cent pieces, a 10 euro note, and a 20 euro notes, b) it's like my favey song ever, and c) I could tell they were having a rough night. And they were very, very grateful.

Then it was back down the street to watch the last few minutes of one bagpiper's performance. That druggie with the mullet made his second appearance of the day, coming right up and dancing a jig to the music while Jeff tried to keep a straight face. He started packing up, but an old Madrileno started chatting him up about a Spanish dance which is based on bagpipe music, and that took about 15 minutes. . . so there I was translating, that guy with the mullet has changed shirts twice and is now dancing around the cops in a leather jacket, my friend Erin caught my attention as she was walking by with a friend- it was just madness.

Finally we were able to go down the street to Calle Montera- have I told you about Calle Montera? Don't go there at night, it's hooker central- to a Cien Montaditos, which is a chain of tapas and beer places. I had a tinto de verano, he had a beer, we sat back, relaxed, talked about the good times, and hooker-spotted. It's sort of funny, because he's actually jealous of me now, which is a total change from 2 years ago, when I couldn't believe how lucky he was to be travelling the world and having adventures. I asked him for advice on finding a job and he said I don't need to- I can go into the little villages out in the jungle and be worshipped as a goddess. Do you see why I love him? Always complimentary, and I think that might actually be good advice. Probably gonna try it.

But after an hour or two, I had to run to the airport, so he helped me get my suitcases from my hostel and hail a cab. Then there was more drama, because the taxi driver was convinced that I was actually stupid because my ticket didn't have the terminal number printed on it. He's the taxi driver, so he's actually supposed to be an expert on airlines and their terminal numbers. . . but no big deal. I only had to call home and use my last 11 euros of phone credit to ask my mum to look up the terminal number. It was Terminal 4, as I'd expected. I've never flown in or out of the Iberian peninsula from a different terminal, and I've come through Barajas airport about 15 times (at least, that's what my passport says). So it would have been nice to have a taxi driver who didn't try to explain to me repeatedly that there are four terminals and it had to be 1, 2, 3, or 4.

Anyway, got there, got checked in, had a lovely conversation with the man behind the desk of the American Express counter. He was giving me all this advice on keeping my money safe, travelling safely, all of that, asking about my job prospects and whatnot. All of this was in very adorable English, and he kept asking me if a certain phrase were correct or not. His jaw actually dropped when I started speaking Spanish. So cute. He said that working at a currency conversion desk was only temporary, because he'd lost his job as a mechanical engineer due to the crisis, but he liked what he was doing because it was interesting and he got to meet lots of new people. I adore people like that. He said I was the first person he'd ever met from Kansas, and after our conversation and the completion of my transaction, we said goodbye, and he wished me the best of luck. I told him I hope he gets back into engineering soon.

Then I went through security and waited another two hours for my flight to leave. Ours was the last one out for the night, at 2:20am, and almost everything was closed. I did, however, grab some patatas alioli from the cafeteria, making it my last meal in Spain. And that was some good patatas alioli.

Well, the flight was uneventful- basically 12 and a half hours of on and off sleep, horrible plane food, Karate Kid, and the lady next to me talking incessantly even though I only responded in English. She was really helpful, telling me all about how disgusting the Argentine way of speaking is, how they have too many bad words and it appalls her to listen to it. She also said I would pretty much want to get the heck out of there, and also the beaches are better in Uruguay, where she's from. Thanks, lady. I'll keep all of that in mind as I START A NEW LIFE IN ARGENTINA.

Then there was a 2 hour layover in Montevideo, which was okay since they had free wifi and lots of outlets that supported European plugs, and onto Argentina on a 50 minute flight. They didn't have the sandwich I wanted on the plane (and I really wanted that sandwich, as I was willing to pay 8 USD for it), but whatevs. Then I hopped off the plane, ran into a little trouble with security because the flight crew had neglected to give me my customs paper, and then one of the customs girls was like, ''Oh we don't actually ask for that here, go ahead,'' and the next guy was like, ''What's she smoking? Of course I need that. . . okay, go through extra security,'' and then a bunch of guys cut me in line and the guy putting bags on the scanner just sort of ignored me a bit til I got all American and pushy. Gentlemen abound in Argentina.

Took a cab to hostel, passed out for (not joking) 16 hours, awoke yesterday morning feeling fairly fresh, freshness factor increased post-shower, went out to find a power converter, went on 6 hour walking tour of La Boca, can now cross it off my list of places to apartment-hunt. It was a pretty sweet walking tour though; we toured the Boca Juniors' stadium where Maradona used to play, then we went around and saw bunches of Maradona impersonators, lots of tango stuff, lots of bright houses. This place is hectic, and packed, and bigger than any city I've ever seen, but I think I'll really be inspired here. There's color and art everywhere.

I've already had a busy day today. I woke up around 5:30, because I went to bed at 9 (lame I know), and came downstairs to use the internet. After I was kicked off the computers by a grumpy cleaning lady, I started talking to an Aussie guy while we were waiting for breakfast. Turns out he's an electrician at home, and was fully prepared to try and help me solve my power conversion woes (basically I could not charge my computer, no matter how many converters I bought or borrowed). And you know what? He made it work, and I'm now using my own laptop to update my own blog! The way it should be.

Oh and for those of you who were worried about my tuberculosis: just know that I showed it who was boss. You see, I've developed my own special treatment for dealing with illnesses while traveling solo. I call it the Lizzie Kansas wellness plan, and it has a 100% success rate. I've gotten better 100% of the times I've been sick away from home. Basically it goes a little something like this:

  • When you get sick, pretend you aren't
  • When other people point out to you that, "You don't look so good," tell them it's something terrible, like tuberculosis or avian influenza to lighten the mood and distract from the fact that it actually might be TB or bird flu (I mean, last year Josephine and I spent the whole summer joking about swine flu and then, wouldn't you know it, come August. . .)
  • If these other people offer you cough drops and tea, exploit the hell out of that
  • If you do eventually decide to give in and recognize that you might actually be ailing, just keep telling yourself (and anyone who asks), "Oh, it's just [tuberculosis], and I'm gonna kick its ass." That kind of staunch American attitude will get you through just about anything.

There you have it, friends. I am now feeling fine and nearly cough-free! However, two of the three people I hung out with in Madrid (Erin and Jeff) say that they are feeling a bit under the weather. You're next Chris, cheers!

So the plan for today is to do a bit of apartment-hunting, go on a tour of Palermo, which is an area I'm looking in, buy some trousers (leggings preferably) and possibly a jumper. Oh! The best part of this whole travelling to the southern hemisphere is that I spent less than half a day in a season other than summer or spring. Thus the changed blog title. This is my endless summer, and you're all welcome to live it with me.

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