Food and drink Spain Travel Tales

TALE: Madrid in my 20s

When I was 20 I went to Madrid for the summer looking for work and, er, well, we’ll call it conversation. I’d started studying Spanish ab initio at university and I decided I that if I was to get anywhere in my degree it was vital I go and spend at least 2 months there, immersing myself in the language, soaking up the ‘culture’. Yes, maybe my chances of getting a job would be much higher on the Costa Brava, but there I’d be serving ‘full English breakfasts’ and or working in a German bakery.

I wanted to hang around plazas, drinking calemucho with madrileño students and learning rude words in Spanish. I wanted to know all the backs streets of the hip La Latina quarter and hang out at the up-and-coming gay bars in Chueca. I wanted to go out for tapas, but not until 10pm, and then go to a club, but not until 2am, taking the first metro home about 6am, munching in churros con chocolate. These were all the things I had heard or read about while studying inside a Manchester classroom and, as any good student would, I felt I could get a better grip on my studies if I experienced things first hand.

I set off for a summer in the capital, against my dad’s advice, without anywhere to live, no friends to meet when I got there and no job to go to. Sure things were a little hard the first few days but that did not over-shadow my excitement to get out there and start using my new language skills. There were some minor hiccups, like stating very confidently ‘estoy caliente’ when talking to a group of Spanish boys in the Plaza – which, instead of meaning I was hot, as would be the literal translation, rather meant ‘I was feeling (hot and) sexy’. Ar, how we laughed, me nervously. But after a few teething problems eventually things fell into place. I did find the friends, and a room in shared house but alas, not the job.

However, this little story is not about my trials and tribulations looking for work (I searched everyday for three weeks, but to no avail, finally learning that during the summer months Madrid empties due to the rising temperatures, and so bar-staff were not in high demand). It is rather about being able to recognize and accept a situation when it is really as it should be. Just as I was coming to terms with the fact that my search for a job could well be pointless, I called home and was informed by my dad that my mum would be coming to see me in Madrid – on her own, as father wasn’t coming, he doesn’t like the heat. I had left home two years earlier and with no job in the way this was a great opportunity for some mother-daughter catch-up-quality time!

It was perfect. So much girlie fun. We toured the outdoor swimming pools around the city by day, taking hours out to lunch and then siesta. We shopped around in the markets and attempted to bargain for goods in my burgeoning Spanish. At night we sipped house wine in plaza-bars and ate the menu del dia. We weren’t frivolous (no job remember and I refused to let my mum pay for everything), but you don’t need to be to have fun in Spain.

The week came all-too quickly to an end and so for the last night I planned a little treat. Many-a-time I’d walked past this little Argentinean place near the Palacio Real and my mouth had watered at the thought of those juicy, perfectly cooked, bright red pieces of sumptuous meat (I like mine medium-rare). We arrived at 8pm, little too early for most locals to be eating dinner, so we had our pick of the tables – and also cute waiters. The meal, ambience, service, was just how we wanted it to be. When my mum tells this story, she never fails to recount how each time she took out a cigarette, before she could even reach for her lighter, a charming waiter would be over lighting it for her, which made her giggle every time. Plus there were the comments about us being sisters – that one never fails to do the trick.

How free and fantastic that time was. For one of the few times in my life I could focus on what I wanted to do. I walked the entire city, getting to know it literally like the back of my hand. I spoke Spanish all day long, with anyone willing to brave a conversation with me. I ate and drank as the Spanish did and cemented some life-long friendships. But most of all, when I think back to that summer in the sun, I think about that time I had with my mum, when we got to hang out, as if we were sisters, and chat and relax, with nothing else to think about expect where we should have out next glass of wine.

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Comment by
7 Oct 2009

I did eventually get to Madrid, at Easter time, far cooler, and it was really nice. Much later however and by this time Jo had wizzed off to some other part of the planet where I also haven’t been. She does occassionally return home to Yorkshire and seems happy to see me on home turf.