Friday, September 4, 2009

European Story Snapshots: Madrid, Spain

Giena and I are languishing on a quaint side street in Madrid, Spain. It is 100 degress, or at least, it feels that way. The winding road has beautiful cobblestones and white shop fronts. The street is mostly empty; it being siesta. Spain shuts down between 1-ish and five-ish for food and sleep. This is highly inconvenient to Geina and I since we did not leave our hostel until 1:30. We managed to find an Asian store, “my people!” Geina declares triumphantly, that sells pure junk. I pick up a fanny pack. Geina drags me outside to question my sanity.

Pro: my wallet was pick pocketed within an hour of being in Spain. I feel confident of not losing and/or something being stolen which is strapped to my body.

Additional pro: great fanny jokes.

Con: rather hideous, fashion wise


Pro: rather awesome, fashion wise.

While going over the practical and emotional ramifications of such a purchase, a stunning African woman walks by.

She stands out especially because there are very few minorities in Madrid. I have noticed in European travels that cities along the coast support varied ethnicities. Futher inland, cities and entire countries have the same skin color, as well as similar facial constructs. Spanish women are elvish, to my surprise. They have rather sharp faces; more handsome than pretty.

This woman’s white flowing dress and hair wrap glows against her dark skin. She is older, perhaps in her forties. Her face is smooth and broad, accentuated by dramatic black liner and red lips. She floats through the Spanish street.

“Giena,” I whisper, “how do you tell someone they are beautiful in Spanish?”

Geina pauses. “Tu es bonita?”

The woman notices us looking at her and smiles grandly. She runs her eyes over us. We stand out just as much as she.

Geina is half Scottish and Korean. She has the large, almond Asian eyes combined with dark auburn hair and freckles. She is beautiful in any culture, any country. While most Americans have always spotted me as Irish for the red hair and freckles- Europeans are not fooled. During my first trip to Europe I had to admit and embrace my mothers Germanic heritage. My face is the exact opposite of the Spanish women; broad and angular. My hair is red and blonde, two colors not at all popular or natural to Spanish women.

“Spanish men will either find you very beautiful, or very ugly,” our first hostel employee tells me, “you look different.”

About thirty meters away she stops and shouts something to us in Creole. I speak rudimentary French and understand she is trying to tell us she thinks we are beautiful. Giena shouts “Tu es bonita!’ at the same time I say “Tu es tres belle!”

The woman and her companions laugh. Shop keepers and tourists come out to see what all the shouting is about.

“Beautiful girls,’ she calls in a heavy french accent, continuing her walk down the street.

Geina turns to me, “I want to live in Madrid.”

“I want to look like her.”

Geina and I grin at each other. There is something magical about being in another country, yelling compliments across cobblestones.

We decide to get the fanny pack. While we doubt the gorgeous woman would wear such a thing, the jokes are just too good to pass up.

We transfer all of the things from our purse into my fanny.

(Hee hee hee)

I am on a balcony at my hostel, smoking cigarettes with a fellow traveler. The balcony is barely that- it is more like a fenced in ledge. We have about five inches to lean over the railing and look at the busy Madrid street. There are diamond shaped blue tarps criss-crossed over the busy avenues, about forty feet below us, to shade people from the sun during the day. I have never seen such contraptions, but they prove to be both beautiful and useful. It is about 11 oclock, and the sun has just set. The tourists from earlier are slowly being replaced by locals and younger travelers eager to experience the famed Madrid night life. My tourist book says people from Madrid are the only ones that can say New York and Paris was boring with a straight face.

My hostel room mate is a pretty, curvy girl from London. She has a delightfully thick English accent erring more on the side of cockney than upper class posh. Geina and I are trying to get her to come out with us, but she is recovering from heavy partying with a group of Australians from the night before.

On the stone paved street below we watch two police officers sitting on the hood of their car.

“What do you suppose they are waiting for?” She asks, blowing smoke.

"Geina and I.” I respond.

She looks at me wide-eyed. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope. I went out earlier to grab some food and they were leaving the building when I was coming back in. They asked if I was going dancing later and I told them yes, with a friend. They offered to escort us for the night.”

“You’re going out with bobby’s? Are they old?”

“Nope, only a few years older than us. One of them has great tattoos. I figured it was the best way to keep Geina from getting in trouble. She is a handful.”

“Lovely girl, that one.”

“And she knows it. What do you do in London?”

“Oh, God. I don’t want to tell you!” She exclaims, lighting another cigarette. “It’s so terrible.”


“Worse. Teacher.”

“What do you teach?” I ask.

She takes on a pained expression.

“It’s too awful.”

“Math? Science?” I prod.

She turns to me, biting her lip.

“Spanish, I teach Spanish.”

“What’s so bad about that? Spain must be a great vacation for you.”

She shakes her head, her blonde hair floating in the wind. She sighs, lifting her expressive blue eyes. “I’m here because I am total shit at Spanish. I don’t really know it. The students are better than me.”

“Wait, what? You teach Spanish and you don’t know it?”

“I know, I know,” she says mournfully, “I know French but to get the job I had to teach two languages. So I told them I knew Spanish. But I'm shit at it. The students are onto me. They know I don’t really know it. So I figured I would spend a few weeks in Spain before I go back to work.”

“Is it helping?”

She shrugs. “I should have found Spanish blokes to party with, but Australians are just so fun.”

“Understandable.” I put out my cigarette on the ledge. The cops below get into their car and drive away. “Darn.”

She grabs my hand and I turn to her. “Promise me you won’t tell anyone about the Spanish thing. It’s so embarassing.”

“I promise.”


  1. Get to the part about the Argentinians.

  2. I want to hear about how you got pickpocketed. And yes, to Aussies. Why are they not in Orlando?

  3. lovely account.. sorry about the cops.