dreams that become realities, and realities that were once dreams

Despite three unrelated banking fiascos, today falls in the “win column” because the torrential rains stopped, I discovered Librería Libros Libres, and I finished the night with some simple but incredible tapas in Madrid’s famous La Latina neighborhood.  (Before I continue, I’ll tell you that the highlights were two tostas, one topped with jamón serrano, figs, and a honey drizzle; and the other with Manchego cheese, caramelized onions and a balsamic reduction.  Salivating?  You should be.)

Librería Libros Libres (“free book store”) is modeled after a project that was born in Baltimore in 1999, aiming to bring reading material, free of charge, to anyone who desires it.  The Madrid version, which just opened this month, is one of the many projects run by the multinational non-profit Grupo2013, whose motto is “Educa a los niños y así no hará falta castigar a los hombres” – Educate the children, and that way you won’t have to arrest the adults.  In Madrid, their other key initiative involves offering free remedial classes to students who would otherwise drop out of school.  Although their work varies across the communities they serve, Grupo2013 believes that education is the key to ending poverty and inequality.  Their director writes that he works with “sueños que se convierten en realidades, y realidades que en su día fueron sueños” – dreams that become realities, and realities that were once dreams.  I cannot think of a more beautiful perspective on the past, present and future.

Tucked away on a mostly residential street, the bookstore consists of walls of precariously stacked reading material loosely organized by genre, plus a room full of DVDs.  The operation runs completely on the honor system, as all items borrowed are to be returned at one’s leisure, with only a name (but no contact information or deposit) kept as a record.  Donations are accepted in the form of books, DVDs, euros, volunteer hours, cake, and coffee.  I will certainly be back, perhaps with one of those items in tow.


word of the week: waiting

Things I’m currently waiting on:

-school starting
-moving into my new apartment
-my youth (read: discounted) bus/metro pass being processed
-finding a time to go open a bank account when the bank is actually open
-being given an appointment to apply for my Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero (foreigner’s temporary residence card)
-receiving my TIE (see above)

oh, and…

-Spanish dinnertime arriving

In the meantime, I’ve attended an 8.5-hour orientation (that consisted of maybe one hour’s worth of information), visited my school to meet the Jefe de Estudios and some of the English teachers, made my first trip to 100 Montaditos since returning to Spain (on Wednesday, of course, for its famous all-mini-sandwiches-and-all-drinks-for-one-euro deal), and spent the day hitting up key Madrid spots with a Northwestern friend who was in town briefly before beginning her teaching adventure in Barcelona.  I have a few more days for frolicking and errands, and then comes Monday, which signals my first day of work and the big move!

a Chilean beginning to a Spanish year

I arrived in Madrid on Tuesday, and with the help of my dear friend Isabel, eventually navigated the metro system and unexpectedly hilly streets of Madrid with 100+ pounds of luggage in tow to arrive at our destination.  Thanks to AirBnB, we found an affordable and perfectly located room in the apartment of a young couple and their adorable little girl, who happen to be from Chile.  These first few days have seen three-way Chilean-Spanish-American cultural exchange (mostly about food, and a bit about politics), a delicious lunch in a Chilean bar owned by a friend of our hosts, and a Chilean-style birthday party for little Violeta, complete with empanadas, salsa dancing, and cake smeared all over the one-year-old’s face.  

In addition to the pleasant but unexpected taste (literally and figuratively) of Chile, my first few days in Madrid have been occupied with getting a phone plan (relatively painless) and finding an apartment (a bit more painful, though it could have been a lot worse without Isa’s help).  After about 50 emails, 30 phone calls, and 10 viewings, I decided on a beautiful, spacious room with a balcony in the apartment of an older woman who rents out her three extra bedrooms to students and young professionals.  I’m currently the only tenant, but hopefully by the time I move in on October 1, I’ll have apartment mates as well.  Until then, my current hosts have been gracious enough to let me continue my stay here.

Although I purchased a phone plan with (a limited amount of) 3G data, and will surely use it, my biggest takeaway so far is that I’m living in a city where it won’t be necessary to be glued to my phone to get from point A to B, or even to know what point B is.  The Spanish alternatives to Google Maps and Yelp (which do both exist here), i.e. stopping people on the street and asking for directions or recommendations, appear to be equally effective, and with my less-than-stellar map-reading ability, often significantly more effective.  Within reason, I’ll be putting my fate in the hands of the madrileños.  We’ll see where they take me. 

t minus one week


One week from today, at this time, I will be shoving my last spoonfuls of peanut butter down my throat before departing for Logan Airport en route to Madrid, via Zurich.  Armed with little more than what you see in the photo above, the newest chapter of my life will begin.

Considering that my previous post was quite flowery and optimistic, I feel the need to temper it with a bit of sass so that you, my dear readers, can rest easy knowing that it really is me.

As I was toying with the idea of writing this very travel blog, the cynical voices in my head asked me if I really wanted to fall into the pattern of “1. American goes abroad.  2. American writes cliché blog about funny linguistic mishaps, awe of ornate architecture, and heartwarming interactions with locals.  3. Friends and family back home dutifully post comments about how jealous they are of the fun that said American is having in foreign land.”  Quickly, however, the ghost of Emile Durkheim and the less cynical angel on my shoulder chimed in to remind me that such phenomena exist because they serve a purpose – a purpose that I, too, would like to achieve.  And that purpose is to document my experiences and share them with those I love.  And so was born this blog.  So, as I embark on a year of teaching, learning, traveling and eating in and around Madrid, Spain, I hope to keep you abreast of my experiences with as much frequency, imagery and wit as I can muster.  And, ya know, feel free to comment and tell me how jealous you are of the fun I’m having in a foreign land.

what’s in a name?

Extrañeza is the closest you’ll get to a Spanish translation of “foreignness.”  But the best part of the word is that it embodies so much more than just that.  In addition to foreignness, extrañeza can also be defined as the state of being strange, new, or extraordinary.

As I plan to move 3,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, I have promised myself that I will embrace both my own extrañeza and that of my new surroundings.  This means acknowledging that just as I will find many aspects of my new life extraño, so too will my new madrileño neighbors find me to be extraña.  I could allow this to inspire fear, anxiety and an elevated heart rate, but rather, I have chosen to embrace it and search for the beauty and excitement in the novel.  As travel writer Bill Bryson once wrote, the best part of traveling is “to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”  While I have previously resided in Spain for three-and-a-half months, and although I anticipate achieving a certain level of comfort and routine as I settle into my new life, I will work to take nothing for granted and embrace extrañeza every day.