Thursday, December 24, 2009

Felices Fiestas

For all of those Murphy’s Law moments in life, there are also times when things just seem to work out perfectly. My end-o-semester adventures with winter weather and travelling turned out to be one of those times. Even if it meant getting home with no time to spare for Christmas shopping, delaying my flight back to the USA until after a trip to Madrid turned out to be the best decision I could have made. Everyone with earlier flights to the States had them cancelled (often for days) due to the snow that started on one side of the Atlantic and continued on the other. A friend flying to Madrid the day before me spent a horrendous day and night in Charles de Gaulle, and anyone leaving Madrid a day earlier would have been caught in the freak, late-night snow storm that left warm-weather Spaniards reeling. As it was, we had to taxi about a half hour in the plane to reach a clear runway (at one point alongside a highway—we were starting to wonder if we were actually going to *drive* to Spain), but everything was muy bueno.

Part of the “wisdom” in choosing Madrid for our end-o’-the-semester weekend trip was that, being in the South, it would be warmer. In reality, it was colder. But even if it wasn’t the break from bleak winter weather we expected, Madrid was nonetheless a nice change of pace from life in Paris. Compared to the reserved, homogenous, black-and-grey clad Parisiens I interact with on a daily basis, the Espagnoles were chatty, vibrant, and dressed in brightly colored, goofy holiday clothes. The sudden switch to Spanish had me speaking in caveman sentences and lamenting how much I’ve forgotten, but the longer we were there, the more I began to be proud of how much I ever had to forget. Despite the fact that Madrid is a capital city, there was a surprising lack of English (apparently the Spanish are even worse than the French at learning other languages), so I had a lot of opportunities to brave the thpanish accthent. Stringing together sentences was like a game, and every interaction reminded me of a verb tense or fun phrase I had once known.

We structured our trip around going to art museums and enjoying Spanish cuisine from hole-in-the-wall tapas bars, such as paella (seafood-rich rice from southern Spain), the Spanish “tortilla” (more like a frittata—made of eggs/potatoes), the spicy cured chorizo, Iberian ham and cheese, chocolaté con churros (fried dough sticks dipped into a pudding-thick hot chocolate) patatas bravas (potatoes in a sweet and spicy orange sauce) and choquettas (fried cheese/ham balls). All of it was amazing, although by the time we left I was having serious cravings for salad, juice, or anything with fiber and vitamins. Museum-wise we visited the famous Prado museum for El Greco, and then the Museo Reína Sophía for Picasso’s Guernica and a few other cubists/surrealists.

We also shopped—joining the throngs of happy Christmas bargain hunters lining the streets from Plaza Mayor to Sol. I treated myself to the first clothes I have bought all semester, which is something I should start to do a little more often if I ever want to graduate to an “adult,” European wardrobe. Unfortunately, aside from being intimidating stylish most Parisian stores are discouragingly expensive when you’re paying in US dollars, and fashion has never been a budgeting priority for (priorities: trying new/delicious foods, books, and travel). Madrid was a little more affordable, though, so maybe the key to clothes is to use the extra I put aside from my stipend to fund travel that affords cheap shopping opportunities….Eastern Europe, anyone?

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