Madrid, la magnífica

May 6, 2010, 12:51 a.m.

El día

“Muy rico, no?” my host mother Rosalía asks as she stirs a steaming pot of sopa de lentejas con chorizo, lentil soup with sausage, a traditional Madrilenian dish.

And yes, the soup is rich. Food in Spain just seems to taste better. The sausages are smokier, arroz con leche flavored ice cream is superb and I’m not sure how I’ll be able to return to American coffee.

Meals in Spain are, for the most part, important affairs, and snacking in between meals is uncommon. Lunches start around 2 or 3 p.m. and can last over an hour. Between spoonfuls of soup, we munch on Galician bread and jump randomly from topic to topic–from the way Christmas is celebrated in Spain to the Flight of the Conchords.

A cheesy commercial pops up on television, and I get a chance to make somewhat snide comments and practice my Spanish slang. When I can’t find the right words, I trust in cognates and improvisation. One-third of my tries work, and the rest of the time Rosalía corrects my vocabulary and grammar patiently.

I look at my watch and it’s nearly 4 p.m. My class on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela–a yearly Christian pilgrimage–starts at 4 p.m. I quickly finish the remainder of my meal (overeating is key when dinner doesn’t come until 10 p.m.), sprint down several flights of stairs and power-walk down Paseo del General Martinez Campos toward the Institute.

But it is easy to slow down and appreciate the ambiente of the quaint streets of Madrid. It’s a bustling city, yet remains elegant in all its historic beauty. Small shops that sell particular items–heladerias, papelerias, fruterias–are situated at the bottom of yellow, orange and salmon-colored apartment buildings.

Schoolboys and girls in uniform chat excitedly in rapid Spanish–far too quickly for me to comprehend. Adults in professional attire walk coolly, cigarettes between their fingers. No one really rushes except for me–clearly American.

I burst into the classroom 15 minutes late while Professor Larranaga is lecturing about the apocalypse. He smiles and pulls up a chair for me. Here, it seems that time is something that is yours–part of your personal space. Dios mío, I like this Spanish lifestyle.

La noche

It’s almost 1 a.m. and the metro comes less frequently, getting ready to shut down in an hour. But when the metro system closes, the nightlife begins.

A flood of people exit the station at Puerta del Sol, a major plaza in Madrid that serves as a starting point for a whole slew of bars and discotecas, or dance clubs. Young adults gather in groups to have a botellon, or in more familiar terms, a pre-game. People squeeze into crowded tapas bars for cheesy, meaty and bready treats and large drinks. Promoters chase after partiers, offering free shots and entrances to discotecas.

Our party is headed to Joy Madrid, one of the most popular dance clubs in the city, when a promoter woos us to another called Palace–we can’t resist entrada gratis and free sangria! The lights on the dance floor flash quickly–in a risk-of-seizure sort of way–and bad but catchy techno music blares.

“Where are you from?!” scream various dance partners in accented English against the backdrop of loud music.

“Soy de California!” is a response that sparks a curiosity that’s reciprocated by a “Soy de Madrid!” or “Sono da Italia!”

At one point, we dance to overplayed American songs like Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” It feels a bit like a college dance, except we get twirled around and are practically the only ones who know the full lyrics. This ensues for four hours, or more.

At 5 a.m. “Stereo Love” plays one last time and the lights switch on. Phone numbers are exchanged, customary double-kisses goodbyes are given and then we scatter. At this point, everyone’s got the munchies, so we step over broken glass and avoid making eye contact as we head toward Chocolateria San Gines.

“Churros con chocolate, por favor,” a friend asks, true to tradition. “Y agua! Agua tambien.”

It’s hard to find a seat because, to no surprise, this place is full as well. Shoulders slumped and eyes half-closed, we guiris–foreigners–watch as the Spaniards in the restaurant, seasoned veterans of the 1 to 6 a.m. nightlife, carry on as if the night is young.

For us, conversation is at a minimum. Tomorrow we’ll visit El Palacio Real, go for a run through El Parque del Retiro and meet up for cafe and pastries at Cafe Gijon. But right now, we’re just waiting for the metro to open at 6 a.m. Our bodies are shocked, but we can’t deny that it’s great to be a 20-something here in Madrid.

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