Boceto Final

I compose this post from Lisbon. I left Madrid Thursday night. It was not easy to say goodbye; the city was my home. I did get this last sketch of Chicho in the living room. IMG_1623
This was a daily sight for me: Antonio in his armchair watching TV. It was a pleasant living room to with plants, art, colorful rugs. I will miss it.
Of course, it isn’t goodbye for good. Unlike other nice cities I’ve visited, Madrid is more than a destination I can cross off a list. It was my home, and for that reason I will return. Chicho and Luisa assured me that if their guest-room is empty, I will have a bed in Madrid.I look forward to taking them up on that offer.

Palabras Unicas IV

So many Spanish words still deserve recognition.  For the last vocab post, I’ll do a rapid-fire list. They bear amusing resemblances and interpretations of our English or American versions.
Muñeca-  A homophone meaning both “wrist” and “doll.” So you could have la muñeca de la muñeca.
Estornudar- To sneeze. English speakers (myself included) have often misused this word as a congnate for “storm.”
Tormenta- Storm. I  find a triangulation between the words, estornudar, tormenta, and “storm.” The confusion has made for some amusing misunderstandings. 
Espeluzante-A fitting translation of “spooky.”
Tiquismiquis –
Equally worthy word for “picky.”
The word for “bad-word,” I assume it’s more or less a portmanteau of palabra (word) and roto (broken). It’s a satisfying round of syllables, and sounds in itself vulgar
 Verb for drinking down the wrong pipe. It comes from the word for throat- Garganta
Majo- A more colloquial compliment, describing someone particularly kind and genuine.
a jinx or unlucky person. Gafar is the verb form.

There also a few phrases and refranos, sayings or expressions, which merit mention.

No Tener pelo en la lengua- Literally: having no hair on the tongue. It’s Spanish for not having a filter. The image that phrase conjures makes me chuckle.
Hasta el cuarenta de mayo, no te quites el sayo- Translates to “Until the fortieth of May (yes the fortieth)   don’t take off your jacket.” It refers to Spain’s fickle spring, with stretches of clear-sky and warmth, followed by days of torrential downpour. The switching lasts until early June.

Discovering the language has been one of the most enriching parts of Madrid. Every day, I was surrounded by the beautiful sounds of Spanish. Totally immersed, I could better discover the characteristic and descriptive content of the Spanish language.



I’m quite delighted by the frequent use of “bien,” in Spain. At the end of every meal, Luisa will sigh, and decree, “muy bien,” as we begin collecting the plates. I find it a nice punctuation. When asked how I’m doing, I usually respond, “muy bien, gracias,” to which the person usually responds, “muy bien.” That’s usually how a waiter or waitress will respond to an order. Our language teacher often wraps up a lecture, “bien bien bien,” and sometimes he gives an extra, “bien bien.”

Whenever said, or rather whenever a Spaniard says it, it gives a certain warmth. I find an absence of that warmth whenever  Americans use “good” to describe how they are or to respond to something good. It’s so simple, just commenting, “good,” but to me it adds a lot. Remarking bien shows an appreciation and a mutual happiness. It’s this kind of easy-going attitude, similar to “no pasa nada,” that I will miss deeply.


People bump each other a lot: on the bus, on the street, in cafes. In Spain it usually happens without a word, rarely any kind of sorry given. That’s probably because the response would be, “No pasa nada,” more or less translating to, “nothing happened.”

At a program meeting about re-entry, we were asked what we would miss about Spain. A common answer was the No pasa nada attitude. As an American, it’s hard to know how somebody may react when you flat-tire them, miss their class or show up late. But in Madrid, their exists a certain understanding that things happen and don’t deserve much attention.

 I prefer this response, No pasa nada to its situational equivalent in English: “it’s fine,” or “it’s okay.” “It’s okay,” carries a sense of forgiveness; that we both know you didn’t do something right, but it’s okay, I don’t mind.
Early on, maybe in January, I was leaving my restaurant table and accidentally tugged the table cloth. Before I realized, I had already broken plate. Shuddering at the shatter, I apologized profusely.
The waitress waved her hand. “No pasa nada,” she said sweeping up the pieces. That  calmed me down, reminded me that accidents happen.  They get cleaned up and that is that.
It will be harder to find that level of granted tranquility in the United States. Still, no pasa nada  is an attitude, a way of looking at events. Although it may be harder to practice it away from Spain, I can still bring it home with me. I think using no pasa nada in my life at home will allow those around me to feel the same.

Presente con Dudas

As I discussed in the previous post, Spain still views its historical empire with rose colored lenses. While slavery does not inform this nation’s history is not as immediately  as those of the western hemisphere, that historical imbalance informs an unsettling perspective on minorities and immigrants.

In perfectly civil unguarded conversations, Spaniards have expressed thoughts I find indefensible: that marginalization is self-inflicted; that minorities create a separate society; that anybody who does not appear traditionally “Spanish” needs to prove their worth. Immigrants and minorities often seem scapegoated. During a discussion on social issues, one Madrileño said nonchalantly, “A mi, no me gustan mucho los latinos.”

During soccer games aired on television, I’ve seen these commercials: The tagline, “Say no to racism,” has always seemed simplistic. Within the U.S, more are realizing you can’t just say “No,” to racism. Racism is a status quo historically imbedded in governmental systems, in media and society, and attitudes; racism is a perspective that’s internalized from infancy.

I don’t know specifics of Spanish history, nor do I know social statistics. Regardless, Spain’s values seem counterproductive to racial progress. But with popular perspectives regarding race apparently far behind, maybe saying “No,” is among Spain’s early steps. Hopefully dialogues on race will continue opening up, and Spain will be able to confront its own history and current myopia.

Historia Oscura

Just  a few blocks from the program center is the Plaza de Colón, one of Madrid’s central boulevards. The plaza memorializes Christopher Columbus, or as he’s known here, Cristóbal Colón. In the center of the main intersection looms an elaborate monument surrounded by a circular fountain Thirty feet in the air, atop a white fluted column stands Columbus. Sculpted in white, he clutches a flagpole;  his other arm gestures with an open hand towards the plaza. Within the plaza itself stands a fifty foot flagpole, waving a giant Spanish flag. Right next to the plaza is the enormous building housing both the national library and archeological museum.
Spain’s reverence for their hired explorer sits uneasily with me. Columbus’s legacy has  become murkier and controversial in the hemisphere he discovered. Many feel history overlooks the monstrous violence he used against indigenous people to colonize. While viewed differently at the time, Columbus’s cruelty begins a long history white supremacist violence in the New World. In response, a movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day has gained momentum in the last decade.
Many Spaniards seem conveniently unaware of the blood on their nation’s hands. As one of the largest imperial forces, Spain remains culpable. Within the mainland itself, Spain kept slaves, a practice that ended when the empire shifted its slave labor towards the new world. Few Spaniards are aware of this fact.  Hopefully, Spain can gain a more critical perspective on their own history.  While addressing their historical guilt may be disruptive, their denial or blindness may be more damaging in the long run.


Palabras Unicas III translates pata to leg or paw. The word came up during my print lesson when Mario used “Metido el dedo,” (literally: put the finger in or to dip the finger) to describe somebody’s screw up. He informed me that the phrase “Meter la pata” refers to a serious screw up. Just the finger may describe a fixable error, but the whole leg means a  public mess-up with serious consequences. For example, when groom mistakes one of his wedding guests for his wife, that’s “meter la pata.”
Dedo, I knew, but I had to get some clarity on pata. Helpful student Maragarita said it was an animal’s hand. Naturally I went to paw, but there was something general about their definition. Paw would merit some specificity, mentioning a cat or dog.

 I tested with a question: “¿Un pato tiene patas?” I asked. I chose a duck for my amusement.
“Si, un patio tiene patos,” Margarita responded. Well, if a duck has them, pata, is not in fact a paw.  It’s any animal’s leg. Perros, gatos, patos, todos tienen patas.  

Restaurante Encantador

Another casual formality  takes place at restaurants. The bill always comes on either a small silver tray (about the size of my hand) or a thin wooden plate like a coaster.
When paying in cash you leave the bills on the small tray, and your change is returned on the same surface.
I’m not sure why I appreciate this small detail. Seeing the bill on its own serving platter softens the weight of paying it. It’s a little silly, but receiving the check on plate, as if it were another tapa, integrates the payment process into the meal. Maybe I find the leather check-ledger a bit too formal a reminder;  the bare receipt laid on the table is just too obvious.
Even in places where you pay at the counter, the extra bills and coins get served back to you on of these mini trays. A few friends and I concluded a Saturday night with at one of Madrid’s many Doner-Kepab restaurants– the cheap and satisfying option that stays open late. By the time we were finishing, the employees were cleaning up, preparing to close. We could’ve lingered longer, but we decided not to be those guys. Once we paid at the front, the clerk took a coaster-plate from the stack to give me back the single euro in change. In that moment I felt so calmly handled, treated not as one of the American boys keeping the restaurant open, but with the same respect due any other customer. I found the respect humbling.

Palabras Unicas II


Alimentacion Encantador

Every block has its own Alimentación:  a cheap convenience store where locals stop for snacks or groceries. I have the fortune of living next to one of the less common Alimentaciónes with a deli and bakery case. It has become an easy resource for me, a simple place to grab food at a low cost.

I’d like to think the owners have begun to recognize me. There’s a man in his sixties with sharply parted gray hair. He rotates between a few cardigans, stiff-starched shirts, and rep ties. Certainly not the uniform of the 7/11 workers in the United States.  A woman about the same age (his wife I presume), also circulates behind the L-shaped counter. She wears turtle-neck sweaters beneath an apron.

I usually order a Bocadillo de Jamón, and watch as they load the big chunk of ham onto the slicer, and manually work the machine to get a stack of thin slices. Sometimes I’ll buy one of the empanadas on a tray in the glass case. Each time they ask if I’d like it heated up. Whether I’m about to eat it or not, I always accept the offer.

I probably pay an extra euro or two, compared to a grocery store and it’s completely worth it. I’m greeted with an increasingly friendly “Hola. Buenas,” each time I enter. And every time I leave, the exchange of “Hasta luego,” feels genuine.