Monday, July 7, 2008

Independent's Day

For the Independence Day weekend, Nancy (a fellow language assistant from North Carolina) and I had planned to take the night train to Barcelona, sight-see all day Saturday, rent a room, explore some more on Sunday and then return to Madrid by night-train...arriving early Monday morning.
So much for our plans.
When we met up at the Chamartin station early Friday evening, the train to Barcelona was sold out.
The million-dollar question..."what do we do now?"

Since coming to Madrid, I've become a lot more flexible about things. Normally, I'm a stresser. I live by a fairly tight scheduled (my days portioned out by class periods with each section of the day assigned before I get out of bed). Too many changes to the schedule leave me annoyed and tense.

But here, I've adopted a much more casual persona, one which comes easily to a person suddenly (if temporarily) liberated from obligations and responsibilities.

Nancy mentioned the idea of going to Toledo.

"Yes," I said with resignation, "we'll just go to Toledo tomorrow."

Within seconds, we had agreed to buy tickets to Toledo, find a room in Madrid for the night and go out to dinner to celebrate the 4th of July. It was indeed an "Independence Day" for me. I exulted in the freedom to do only and exactly what I wanted. The thought was almost a spiritual experience. My world was alive with the sound of music.
As we chatted on the Metro, tossing possibilities into the plot of our would-be adventure, the evening in Madrid stretched out before us, glamorous and inviting.

But, at the Atoche Renfe station, the music faded away. Our spirits were deflated. It seemed like Madrid had withdrawn her invitation.

Signage in the station was sparse, directions were unclear, lines frustratingly long, and our elementary Spanish insufficient. We had stood in 3 customer service lines, spoken with two security guards and struggled with 3 ticket machines before laying hands on our billetes to
Toledo.



Two hours of our glamorous evening had passed. The strap of my messenger bag, stuffed with books, clothes and necessities for the weekend, dug mercilessly into my shoulder and collarbone. We had yet to find a room for the night.
Yet somehow, we emerged from the train station with American resolve. After all, we had gotten tickets. We would conquer this city!

The search was on for a hostel. Cities like Madrid are liberally sprinkled with them. Students, travelers on a budget and, according to John Irving's Until I Find You, single-mother tattoo artists, seek out the sparsely-furnished lodgings. They're cheap. We'd just have to find one that was "okay".
The first featured an ambiguously homeless man sitting near the doorway, listening to a portable cd player. The sidewalk was peppered with other colorful characters. Nancy and I had not come to a complete stop before lurching off in the opposite direction.
Around the corner from the police station, facing a cobblestone square near the Reina Sofia Museum, we found the Hostal Buelta.

The surroundings seemed safe enough. Tourists and natives sipped wine or coffee at outdoor cafes situated in the courtyard. We went in. The lobby was small, but clean. Marble tile floors led to a simple registration desk behind which sat a man who looked to me like he could be Ukrainian.

He spoke only Spanish.

We asked about vacancy and prices and if we could see the room (Nancy read that we should do this in Rick Steve's Guide to Spain). We climbed two flights of stairs and peered down the dim, narrow halls. Finally, we found #218 and wriggled the key in the door. The door swung open revealing...almost nothing. Nancy found the light switch and two fluorescent tubes flickered overhead. The room looked like something out of a National Geographic documentary. Two narrow beds, a few rickety-looking nightstands, a wardrobe, a mustard-yellow lamp, and a 17 inch tv attached to the wall. That's all.

I checked the bathroom. There was a pedestal sink and a shower, separated from the bedroom by a sliding door. But there was something missing...the toilet. I looked again. Surely I had just overlooked it. Nope. No toilet.

Tired of walking, and ready to begin our glorious evening, we rented the room.
We changed clothes for the evening, deciding we'd just ask the East European Spaniard about the toilet on the way out.

It wasn't long before my fellow independent and I found ourselves winding through the narrow streets of Madrid (which, unlike American alleys, are well-lit and fairly busy). Vendors rearranged their colorful wares, music wafted out of open windows, openly affectionate couples clutched each other, pausing in doorways (or right in front of me) for an uncomfortably long session of pda.

A pitcher of sangria later, we sat outside of a cafe, listening to the sonorous moans of an accordion, fanning away cigarette smoke and street vendors. *sigh* Ah...Madrid.

Our conversation reached a lull. My thoughts turned to the very idea of the independence being celebrated with bbq and firecrackers back home. By definition, independence is the condition of being politically free & self-governing. It is not to mean that I am exonerated from ALL responsibility, but rather that I HAVE the responsibility...and right...to govern myself.
How can I take full advantage of my independence?
I start by doing, seeing, exploring, tasting, experiencing and reflecting...like I'm doing right now. Hoping to become a better governor of myself.
Nancy and I topped off our evening by having dinner at an Indian Restaurant (very American, eh?). We returned to the hostel. Our night out had been something short of glamorous, but every bit independent.
But the night wasn't over yet. I had no idea what a long one it would be.

1 comment:

charles b said...

Independence was not entirely the case when it came down to obtaining fireworks. High transportation fuel cost had a negitve influence on the extravagance of fireworks displays this year. Buying them was way more expensive!! There are other reasons too... There was a devastating explosion in one of the major factories in China (where most of Americas fire works ar produced) That , and the big olympic frenzy that going on over there has also slowed down production. So again big demand and low supply. I also did not here too many festive explosions this last weekend as i am used to. Lets just say the prices "skyrocketed" a little to high this time for em'
he he

-charles b