Author’s note: I plan to have photos in the blog, but this entry did not lend itself to taking photos. Hopefully you don’t mind.
Back in undergrad, Kris and Justin Yee (two of my fraternity brothers) taught me how to play guitar. Eventually I got good enough and the three of us formed a band (=sa=). Before we played our first show, Justin warned me that I would only be able to tap into half my guitar skills. And he was right… everyone gets nervous during first rock show – I couldn’t help but get stage fright. (Fortunately, Kris and Justin are bona fide rock stars and they easily picked up my slack.)
I have the same feeling as the plane touches down in Madrid, only worse. Suddenly it seems like a struggle to come up with the most basic of Spanish vocabulary. Everyone else was speaking fluent Spanish and I was the least prepared person on the plane. Well, at least that’s how it seemed at the time (I’d like to think jetlag was a factor).
Fortunately, a familiar face was waiting at the airport – my friend and former colleague from Wyeth Madrid, Bernardo. My brain started to loosen up and slowly I started speaking in Spanish… it was a start.
After we catch up a little, Bernardo tells me that his family is having Saturday dinner together, and they would like me to be their guest. I’m touched… in Spain, weekend dinners are usually shared with family and close friends, and to be invited is an honor. Of course I enthusiastically accept the invitation.
Bernardo drops me off at the apartment that will be home for the next month. I’ll fill you in on the details and show photos in a future post. For now, suffice to say that while not luxurious, it’s comfortable, clean, and will do quite nicely. This is a relief to me… I found this place through internet classifieds, and basically chose the place from looking at online photos. A lot could have gone wrong.
I settle in briefly, and then go for a coffee at the famous Café Comercial. Café Comercial is the type of quintessential old-world café that can only be found in continental Europe, and I feel that it’s the perfect place to start the trip. The waiters wear white coats and there’s marble everywhere. I order café con leche to counteract jetlag and bocatín de jámon – a very Spanish breakfast.
Later I meet Bernardo and he takes me to his parents’ house for dinner. (I’m calling it dinner because it is the main meal of the day, but we start eating around 3pm.) Bernardo’s sister has a friend visiting from Italy, and the two of them have made dinner for the family – lamb chops, clams (without shells), gnocchi, green salad, plates of olives, cheese, and crackers. And of course, Spanish wine – both white and red. We eat in the Spanish style… no one’s in a hurry; after the starters and main course, we sit around the table chatting for more than an hour over café con leche and a plate of sweets. Some time later fresh fruit appears and after-dinner drinks are offered. I forgo the after-dinner cocktails since I’m still not feeling feeling right after the flight, but the Madrileños all partake.
It’s only been one day, but my listening comprehension certainly needs to improve. I’m constantly straining to understand when people speak to me, and background noise seems strangely magnified. But I expect (and hope) that my ears will adjust in less than a week. Until then it will continue to be a bit of a struggle…