So, I guess it’s true what they say about a Spaniards diet consisting primarily of jamon, cheese, bread and cafe con leche. I thought the Parisians and Germans were the only ones with dietary stereotypes, but boy do the Spaniards have it bad for their cured ham. I remember when I used to work at a cheese counter and adjacent to our selection of cheeses stood an erect slab of Iberico ham. I would painstakingly cut this into pieces for customers who weren’t bashful about spending an arm and a leg for a piece of meat. The ham went for about $50 a pound — or $1400 for the whole piece — as it hailed from Spain and the only way to produce it was from the elusive black Iberian pig (or a cross bred pig that is at least 75% Iberico). These pigs are then given a strict diet of acorns and roots — which also gives it their unique flavor — until their ultimate demise and they’re then cured for up to two years. And for a long period of time — until around 2007 — this ham was even outlawed in the States. Why do I know this much about ham!??!! Thank-you past shit job for giving me my invaluable knowledge of Iberico ham. Hopefully, it will help me when I fulfill my dream and wind up on Cash Cab. Or when I become the reigning queen of useless information at trivia night.
My next journey is to find the vermouth — or how the Spaniards would call it : vermut or vermú (berh-moo, stressed on ‘oo’) — on tap around here. Maybe add some whiskey for a comforting makeshift Manhattan. Or just drink some whiskey. I don’t know anything about vermouth but that it comes from wormwood, which just reminds me of tapeworm and ultimately freaks me out.
On another less gastronomic note, learning the language is becoming quite the undertaking. I’ve been here for about two weeks and I’m unwilling to dish out $140 for a weeks Spanish class. I’m doing it the old fashioned way and meeting with locals at cafes and offering them English lessons for their Spanish knowledge. The first one was a disaster as it entailed me taking the metro to the outskirts of Madrid to meet some drugged out woman who lived in what I presumed to be the seediest part of Madrid. I’m just going to mention here that Madrid Metro is pretty damn impressive and navigating your way around the city is a cinch. The trips are always worthwhile, especially when some of the stops are decorated with Goya lithographs and the subways usually brim with ‘musicos’ who play either their accordians, guitars, or the occasional sax.
So, back to my trek: The trip was worth it because I got an eye full of where all the humorous graffiti is born. Note the “Joy Dimision” picture in my gallery which I think is some distant offshoot to ‘Joy Division’, but then is changed to Ra-Joy Dimision. What does it all mean?! Then there are the “Abajo Capitalism” phrases and Anarchy signs on every building that are so overkill they become funny. The phrase itself might not be that humorous to people as this act of public defacement coincides with the public’s displeasure over the Spanish government. Right now, the political climate in Spain is just as bad as this over reigning foggy climate that won’t get the hint to bugger off (its been overwhelmingly cloudy, windy and under 40 degrees lately. burr). HOWever, when you see people protesting over their financial problems and unemployment rates — which have now reached its highest rate of 25% — while taking pictures with their Iphones, contradictions and questions abound over the veracity of their cries. Still, it is nothing short of exciting to live in the heart of the city as a burgeoning revolution occurs here and around (as someone called it) the ‘Club Med’ countries. ha.
My second Spanish class trek panned out nicely since the woman spoke a bit of English as well, and she could actually offer valuable information about the complexities of each tense. We spent a few hours talking about the differences of both the languages, American idioms, and how Spaniards are heavy gesticulators. Yeah, don’t get within an arms distance of a Spaniard who is in heavy gesticulating mode because your eye might get poked out. During our conversation I also said “monkey see, monkey do” and she gave me the most perplexing look, and I eventually had to explain the meaning of this phrase. Apparently, their version of this idiom is “culo veo, culo quiero,” which roughly translates to “bum see, bum want.” I don’t see how this makes any sense, but personifying your butt makes this idiom one for the books and also makes me want to dance to Pitbull. So, learning the language and hopefully being semi-fluent by the time I leave is becoming a quick thorn in my ‘culo’ — specifically when wrapping my brain around the Spanish subjunctive. This tense — or shall I say mood — is purely subjective and has four tenses: present subjunctive, present perfect subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, and past perfect (or pluperfect) subjunctive. And each form you use depends on two factors: the tense of the verb in the main clause and the time relationship between the verb in the dependent clause and the subjunctive verb. What this all basically means, is that for the time being I will stick to my preterite and imperfect tenses and try not to speak in ‘moods.’ (I was going to insert some pun on the words tense and intense, but I’m too perezoso so I am just going to mention that I was going to do it, so I sound partially clever.) ANYways, as far as communicating with people ordering food is fine, but when someone mistakes me for a local and asks for directions and I stare blankly it can get awkward. Or when I got the words ‘mentirosa’ and ‘mariposa’ mixed up, which pretty much meant I called my students ‘butterflies’ instead of ‘liars’, that got awkward too.
I don’t know if any Spaniards or expats will read this, but if you don’t know already J&J cafe/bar/book store is one awesome spot to head to. When I first got here, I was ready to speak only in my broken Spanish and maybe a little English. After awhile, I was thirsting conversations that superseded an elementary understanding of English. J & J Cafe is the perfect place for such an endeavor. The guy who runs the joint now — Dave — is from New Orleans and can offer great pointers on places to go and has this sarcastic tongue in cheek American humor I had already begun to miss. As soon as I walked in, he spoke in English and asked “What would you like?” Hearing your own language spoken to you in a foreign area when you know virtually nobody was more comforting than I thought it would be. The place is also located in an area of Madrid famous for its counterculture and artist scene called Malasaña (also known as the the birthplace of the movida movement after the death of Francisco Franco).
Another topic of interest: ketchup! Yes, the sweet and tangy firetruck red condiment usually paired with a good ol’ American burger. Every time I turn around, the kids I live with are always lathering their pasta with ketchup and murdering their perfectly decent meal or their pouring it in their mouth from the bottle. I don’t get it. Ketchup is not a substitution for pasta sauce. Yes, the two share an essential ingredient but taste wise they are nothing like each other, and one belongs on pasta and the other one well …. not on pasta. It’s like that time I was in Germany eating a PB&J and my family looked at me like I was a vegetarian (or an alien. but to Germans, I guess both are one in the same). When I told them to try the sandwich, they refused and then I quizzically stared at their plates which normally housed two pieces of toast (one with peanut butter on it and the other with jelly). I will never understand foreign diet paradigms.
Side note worth mentioning: What sparked my initial interest in coming to this place was the moment I finished watching Mario Batelli’s show, “On The Road Again.” Link below. But pretty much, I was hoping I would find Michael Stipe inexplicably hitch hiking on the side of some secluded Spaniard countryside road and I would pick him up — as I can never refuse a needy hitch hiker — and we would become best friends and talk about Natalie Merchant or something overtly 90’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qCvcL5T99M. Anyways, the entire show is great and everyone should watch it because it offers a larger glimpse of the wondrous world of Spain outside/inside of Madrid, all guided by Mario Batelli’s unquenchable stomach and thirst for sangria.
*Apologies about my post culminating into this morass of diverse topics that lack any fluidity. My mind was racing with information, and I haven’t actually sat down and written as much lately as I’ve just been doing and exploring, so my fingers just started to translate all the tangents my brain fell into*