Jul 31, 2008

In the mood for love?

"Convince yourself that love is not something that can simply befall you but a delicate plant that must be constantly tended with much care." This sage advice came from my Chinese horoscope the other day.

And it made me think of this:

"Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring." Oscar Wilde

Which reminded me of this:

"When the world seems to be falling apart, the rule is to hang on to your own bliss. It's that life that survives." Joseph Campbell

Then I found myself again in the mood for gardening..

Jul 30, 2008

Jul 29, 2008

Status Update

Well, this is post #13 and day 12 of my creative blog project. Inspired by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg, my goal is to post daily for at least 30 days. So far I'm drawing many blanks and find I have less and less to write. Shame. This exercise was meant to prime the pump not dry out the well. Where are all my ideas? Do I need to get more personal and blog about my mundane affairs? ...like today I bought some flat peaches, bananas and grapes at one of the local fruterías up Calle Santa Fe and along the way various men signaled their approval of my summer dress by ogling and calling me "guapa".. I usually ignore these catcalls as they are a cultural pastime like watching football or botellóns (drinking on the street).

I could also whine about the lack of summer jobs and how I'm melting in my piso from the heat. I could fret about the economic crisis and the tightening of the Spanish belt and how that will play out or not pay out in the local TEFL market come September. I could also admit that I am focusing on posting daily as a way of diverting my obsessive mind away from my current unemployment and the worry that accompanies these skint months... but that's dwelling on the negatives and I'd rather project some light. Is that wrong-headed? Would readers prefer rants and whines to pretty photos and great quotes? That's saying I have readers, which I distinctly doubt. The silence is deafening.

So then I must come back to blogging daily for it's own sake. No audience. No pressure. Just me and my laptop squirting out words and photos into cyberspace.

Jul 28, 2008

The most beautiful thing we can experience

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

Jul 27, 2008


Taken in Cementiri del Sud-Oest on Montjuïc, Barcelona.

Jul 26, 2008

Little Girl Dreams

As a child I wore out the pages of a book describing the ancient wonders of the world and Stonehenge, in particular, set my imagination ablaze.

A couple of winters ago while I was visiting cousins in London, I was offered an opportunity to see mythic Stonehenge. As my uncle and cousin drove me to the Salisbury Plain of Wiltshire, the sky darken rapidly. Rain was certain. We managed to arrive at the prehistoric stone circle before the deluge. My cousin and I wandered the path around the ancient burial grounds and I was filled with wonder. I was here. Then the rain began to beat down hard and most people ran for cover. I lingered for as long as I could, my glasses fogging, my face and parka wet. Not even the rain could dampen the magic of seeing with my own eyes a picture from my childhood dreams.

Jul 25, 2008

When I'm Obsessed with the unanswerable..

I turn to Rilke..

"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." 

Jul 24, 2008

Sword fighting on the Streets of Madrid

Yesterday I infiltrated a private walking tour in Madrid. It was accidental. My boyfriend, Mark was playing Malatesta in what I thought was a simple public street performance. Turns out it was part of an elaborate and private guided tour with dramatized scenes inspired by The Adventures of Captain Alatriste - the bestselling series of novels written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

The guided tour wanders through old Madrid while the actors lay in wait for their moment. I missed my chance to join the tour at the start so figured I'd join them later. When Mark's first scene was over, I followed the audience and was called out by the tour guide for not being part of the group. I had to explain that I was with the actor and that I was to continue on with them until the duel scene. She accepted that, more or less. Talk about feeling like a party-crasher...

The audience consisted of a bunch of rich, tanned Americans, a couple nerdy single ladies, and an Indian fellow. They seemed rather bored with the walking tour portion and the guide's imperfect English and stiffness seemed only to bore them more. The performances punctuated the tour with some flair and much needed humor along the long walk under the hot Spanish sun. Once the theater portion was over and the duels had been fought, I presented Mark with a fake pink rose and followed the tour no more.

Jul 22, 2008


Taken in Cementiri del Sud-Oest on Montjuïc, Barcelona. 

Jul 21, 2008

A surprising thing happened when I googled myself today

I discovered that an excerpt of one of my old book reviews has been printed in a New York Times Bestseller! I'm quoted on the 'praise for book' page along with the likes of Oprah, The New York Times, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Elle. I admit I did a little happy dance of victory. I like being chosen. I like that a piece of my writing went off and had a life of its own.

The book is called The Trouble With Islam Today and it's by the feisty and provocative, Irshad Manji.

Jul 20, 2008

Keeping the Horribles at Bay: Guided Meditations, Mindfulness and Depression

I spent my mad teens clinically depressed. I spent almost all of my vivacious 20s on various cocktails of anti-depressants prescribed to curb my self-destructive passions and mournful wailings. I've hit the dark bottom several times but I've bounced back. I even had 4 (more or less) stable years of fruitful and productive creativity during my Writing degree at UVic.

After graduation, for mostly financial reasons, I went off the meds. What followed was a crash harder than asphalt and my recovery took years. I began this excruciatingly slow crawl back to peace without doctors or their meds. I've been meds free for 7 years. Along the way I have used relocation, taoist philosophy, cultivation of joy, laughter, Love, the dogmas of Joseph Campbell and Jung as conscious and unconscious methods of assuaging the dark siren in me. Yet, the horribles continued to pursue me in the shadows, coming at me with relentless mocking self-recriminations and whispered despair. I posted affirmations on my walls but they provided flimsy muzzles. Then I came upon the practice of self-hypnosis and guided meditations.

Armed with my rudimentary understanding of the brain and neuroplasticity, I decided to reprogram my habitual thoughts. I wanted to counteract the extreme negatives by introducing extreme positives while in a receptive, relaxed state. I collected and tried out a number of different meditations. I chose the ones I felt the most positive in. The effects were fairly immediate. Absorbed snippets from the meditations would spontaneously surface to interrupt a negative eddy from deepening. For example, when I begin thinking of all the bad, irritating shit that's crapping on me, a recorded voice reminds me to rest my thoughts on the positive and everything will go smoothly. I've been practicing these meditations daily for 15 months and for me, it works.

A few months ago, I discovered mindfulness practice while researching depression. They've done clinical studies and found that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduces the risk of relapse in those who had three or more previous episodes of depression (from 66 per cent to 37 per cent). I immediately added Mindfulness practice to my repertoire. I try to spend 30 minutes on Mindfulness and augment it with 20 minutes of positive-thinking based self-hypnosis. I find this combination works well for me. I am more aware of my moods as clouds and my negative thoughts as tiny whirlpools in a giant river.

Suggested meditations:

Thich Nhat Hanh - Mindful Movements

Mindful Way Through Depression - Guided Meditation Practices
BrainSync - Guided Relaxation with Kelly Howell
Bob Griswold's Super Strength Self-Esteem

Suggested reading:

The Lotus and the Synapse - An article in Newsweek
Meditation and Depression - Transcript from ABC's Dimensions Health
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and the prevention of relapse in depression - University of Oxford
The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness - A book

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Jul 19, 2008

How I Got Here

A collection of blogs I posted on Myspace from August to November 2006.

I arrived in Madrid on August 5th with very little Spanish, but very big hopes. This is my journey from despair to bliss. It's a bit dated now and I've had many more experiences since then but still I think this series viscerally captures the anxiety and madness of my first few months here. I am in a very different place mentally and emotionally now and these blog posts sketch the narrative of how I got here.

I.My first week in Madrid
August 12, 2006
It's been a week but it feels like a month. The flight was very long and incredibly exhausting. I arrived at Barajas airport Saturday afternoon disoriented and brain dead. A*****, the nephew of my ex-boss at my last job, who told me he'd pick me up, was absent. I called and he told me he wasn't able to get his lost driver's license replaced in time. So I took an expensive taxi to the place I rented for a week. Alba was dashing off to work so I was lucky to catch her. She is taking care of Jose's apartment while he's in Holland. Jose's place is dirty and the bed I sleep on is sunken in like a hammock. There are also bugs and cockroaches of various sizes--but nothing big enough to eat me. Still, I think this place isn't so bad; at least there's lots of light, big windows and a view of a skinny river. Alba tells me I have the place to myself.

The first thing I do is pull out the bed sheets and pillow cases I brought from home, spread out on the couch and weep. The smell of home comforts me in my delirium. After my siesta, I wander around my new barrio to look for food and the metro. Principe Pio is a big mall and since I hail from Edmonton, city of malls, I am not that impressed. The street I live on is bustling with people -- lots of families taking walks together. Still, I get the sense that aside from the language, this is a place like any other place. I find a couple of Chinese run grocery stores on my block. I am surprised and oddly comforted by the presence of other Asians. I buy a banana, an apple and some chips then return to my rented room. I am so done in, I barely know my own name; I go to bed early.

At midnight a large group of Spaniards gather by the river a few meters outside my window. They drink and laugh and talk real loud. One guy has a robust hoot loud enough to summon the dead. I try to ignore them. By 3am I'm pretty annoyed. I can't understand why someone from my building hasn't yelled at them. I don't speak Spanish so I don't know what to yell. Is OI VAMOOSE enough? I end up walking into the living room and shutting the window. I stand and watch them. One of the guys notices me and whistles for his friends to move down the street, away from my window. They finally end up leaving and I fall into a restless sleep. Jetlag is a bitch. I woke up fuzzy and unmotivated. I spent the next day, not sight seeing but doing my pre-course homework for my TEFL course, which was to begin the next day.

Later that night, the buzzer rings and there is a German girl waiting outside. She's my new roomie. She was also told that she would have the place to herself. She gets the small room, which was probably the servant's room back in the day. Martina is very unhappy. I don't blame her. Her bed sheets are dirty. And her room is interior facing with little light. She is 21, pretty, blonde and thin with wide child-bearing hips. She is a friendly chatty girl here on an unpaid internship through her university. We spend the night complaining about Jose's apartment. She gives him the nickname Dr. Love due to his frilly red decor accent pieces and the cum stain on the sleeping bag in his closet (where all the towels and extra sheets are hidden). Martina and I get along well and she's a sweetie to call apartments for me. She lived in Venezuela for a year when she was 16 so speaks Spanish fluently. We prepare meals together and lament together. It's nice to have a friend.

I begin class on Monday and it is very demanding and intense. I teach my first two practice classes on Thursday and Friday. My first class I have 11 students and I run out of activities and need my teacher to prompt me with ideas. My second class, I have one student and all goes well -- we laugh and I have some teaching fun. All the students are nice and friendly because these English classes are free. My teacher is great. He's a tall, thin, bald man who looks a little like a Gollumish Elf from the Lord of the Rings. He seems wise and smart like one too.

The problem: trying to juggle looking for a place to live, school work, and not speaking Spanish. I feel like I haven't slept in weeks. My sunken, broken bed means I don't sleep well and when I do finally sleep the noise pollution of jack hammers or left blowers wake me up earlier than I need to. I've been too busy and stressed out so I haven't had any fun yet. I haven't seen the major landmarks or had beer and tapas. I looked at 3 apartments on Wednesday: one was a dank dark hole with an ominous looking large can of bug spray on the fridge, and the other two were very small for the price they were asking. I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up.
Fortunately, I found a sublet for 7 weeks through my school and I took it. I cannot be stressing about finding a place and do the demanding work of school at the same time...it was killing me and driving me a wee mad. The guy who is subletting his room to me is a very dramatic British fag. I felt right at home immediately. I got kisses on both cheeks from him, his boyfriend, Oscar, and my roomie to be, Olga. Not a bad start. I move in later today.

Saw A*****...he looked at two places with me...he seemed unable to understand why I wasn't jumping for joy over being here, how I could be sleep deprived and stressed out. He told me to smile more after I had a grueling 10 hour day by 6:30pm...and still needed to run around and see apts...what an IDIOT! If he is a good example of a Spanish manchild then I don't want their pampered spoiled asses. A***** comes from a wealthy family who give him everything he wants. He has never had to work for a living or worry where his next meal will come from. He seems to have no idea what life is like without a silver spoon. He kept asking me about what I thought of Spanish men. I am still heartbroken from my Winnipeg love and he seems unable to show neither compassion nor comprehension. I told him I wasn't in the mood...I'm too busy and stressed out and NOT interested. I have bigger problems taking up most of my brainpower. I am in survival mode and that usually puts a wet blanket on both my libido and my natural boy craziness. I admit it was very nice of him to meet me and look at places and be my translator. But what an idiot! All the promises he made to me in Winnipeg about being a good host to me in Madrid and showing me around and helping me out and introducing me to his friends, was mostly the lip service of a flake. He is not to be relied upon as a friend. I am on my own and I will figure this place out. I will make new friends and by God, I will have fun. All is a matter of time. I live here now so there is no rush to see the sights.

Another observation: the Spanish are very closed. They have a problem with all the immigrants: Latin Americans, Chinese, North Africans. I've heard some racist shit that has me biting my tongue. I'm dark so people don't know where I am from. I look a little Spanish but not Spanish enough. So I hear them talk to me about the Chinese as if I am not Asian and half Chinese. Spain seems a bit backwards in their attitudes in this way. They think Spain is the best. Best food, best culture, best everything so they aren't interested in anyone else. And they don't like that their cities are filling up with immigrants. At least, that is the general impression I get from the limited number of people I have encountered. Growing pains. It's normal. All countries go through this when they open themselves up to "the other".

I am living my dream but the dream isn't so easy to live.

In many ways, I am beginning to remember why Canada is a great country...

II.View from my 2nd piso terrace:
September 2, 2006
"I'm not much on rear window ethics."
From Hitchcock's Rear Window
see photos

III.Work, beer, tapas... life settles down after my TEFL course:
September 2, 2006
We started the night making a toast to all the beer I haven't had since I've been here in Madrid. Hours earlier, we finished teaching our final practice classes and received our TEFL International TESOL Certificates. Martina from Australia, Kerry from New Zealand and I popped into the corner store for roadies (1.5 litre beer bottles to take with us on the short walk to the bar). We found a spot in Plaza 2 Mayo with enough room for the 20 of us and we all got really drunk. It was a good release. I was getting super cranky with life as a tight bun so I really needed to let my hair down. We drank a lot, laughed a lot, walked a lot and bar hopped a lot. It was a fun night. Today, I feel rough.

So... I have a job! The director of my school also owns a sister Spanish Idiomas school. In fact, she opened her company so she would always have a supply of good teachers to hire from. She observed a good number of us. it so happened that she watched me during what i thought was my worst class ever... i had a difficult and uncooperative student... well, it turns out to not have been such a bad thing after all. i was the first person she offered a job to. i start Monday. I will need to add more hours to my schedule but this is a very good start. The hard work helped but I also got lucky. She seems to like me.

This month I've been a very good and studious girl. No sex, no tobacco, no herb, and alcohol only in modest amounts. I've been a regular monky nun. i have been growing evermore dull with all the fun i have not been having. No hedonistic pleasures to distract me. Nope, i have been taking Chuang Tse's (ancient Chinese wise man) advice to heart: when one's will is not distracted, one's power increases. So I have isolated myself, focussed on school work and stared out at my lovely vista (see view from my terrace) in quiet meditation. I have observed that life is visceral and lived in the open here. The streets are full of people simply hanging out. There is a constant babel. Voices and domestic clink clanging of dishes and pots mixed in with bird songs, crying babies, hot-tempered roars and the occasion buzz of a saw. The pungent smells of cooking and garbage waft through spaces like dense fog. Life teems and bustles and yet i am removed. i watch from above on my terrace. The talking is still mostly sounds to me because i don't understand the language.

Aside of my views, i have also been witness to some mad madrilenos. A hot-blooded Spanish temper flares at the supermarket when a young man slips on a broken bottle of alcohol. A woman and her two children walk past the shelf full of bottles and one of them knocks a bottle over. It smashes to pieces. The mom keeps walking as if nothing had happened. Shortly afterwards, a young Spanish man and his girlfriend walk past the spill. He slips on the wet floor and falls to his knees after a short flaying dance. He is so enraged, he throws his empty shopping basket at the shelf of bottles. Miraculously, no bottles fall down. Another mad incident happens on the Metro. We are at a stop when loud banging startles us. A man is pounding on the door because he doesn't know where to press the button for the door. (ok, so maybe he's not a madrileno) When he does finally get in, he begins cursing. This man in his 30s is wearing a dark suit and wheeling a very large suitcase. He begins singing and tapping on his lap loudly and with the passion of a true madman. The fear that he may pull out a gun from his suitcase and massacre us all crosses my mind. I look around and consider good hiding spots but nothing more happens.

I have also helped my German friend, Martina, beat a hasty retreat from Jose's cucaracha pad. She and Jose have been fighting about the apartment via the phone and email. So she found another spot with a terrace in her bedroom. It's really quite nice but expensive. After she unpacks and chills out she buys me some tapas. It's our pet passion. We have dedicated a few nights to the hunt for good tapas. So far my favorite is Patatas Brava: potato in spicy red sauce. Much to my disappointment, this not prepared the same way everywhere. We found a place on Paseo de la Florida that has good beer and delicious patatas brava. In Cheuca, the gay district, we found a place where the beer is small but the tapas are big. They have a nice selection of bread with toppings (cheese or tomato or a seafood chowder like concoction or tuna). A few nights ago, i went out with Martina and some of her German friends to Plaza Mayor for beer and tapas. The tapas weren't free with the beer at this place. We ordered from a list. We had tiny baguettes filled with ham and blue cheese, shrimp and cream cheese, and tortilla. This was a very lovely low-key night filled a beautiful walk pass the Palacio Real and other historic landmarks, good conversation (it was nice of the Germans to speak in English for my benefit) and delicious tapas. Maryel and Ansel have invited me to stay with them in Frankfurt if i ever come up to Germany. Martina met them the day before at the German Embassy. She had her wallet stolen so was at the embassy getting new id. Martina, bless her heart, is a magnet for guys and drama of all types. But she is also very good at meeting people. She has a real gift of the gab.

So, life is fine. I'm adjusting. There are ups and downs. This is a real adventure. This month i will concentrate on being more social and building a community for myself. martina leaves in 2 weeks so i have got to find a comfortable haunt and some new friends. I'm also slowly learning some Spanish. The other day, i got a picture id called abono for the metropass and bought a September pass all by myself with my limited Spanish. I was damn proud. The lady wasn't so friendly or patient but whatever. Fuck her. Tomorrow I'm going to the Prado to see the Picasso exhibition with 2 girls from school then we're going to sit in Retiro Park. I will take pictures of pretty things and i will post them. And yes, i will enjoy life.

IV.Culture shock, piso hunting nightmares and how Myspace saves the day..
September 29, 2006
Can it be...
I take the metro to work. When it approaches the station I have the fleeting impulse to hurl myself in front of it. This alarms me. I feel the on set of a major depression episode and I am without meds, dope or my usual network of friends to lament to or lean on for support. Emails can't hug you. MSN can't wipe away your tears or take you for a walk or buy you smoothies. Nothing is wrong per say but I cannot help feeling the urge to give up... on top of all the other normal life stress, work, finding an apartment, not speaking the language, etc, this fighting against my nature has me very tired, exhausted and run down. I begin to panic and flay about in a desperate dance...my worse fears about travelling alone are coming true...my darkness will consume me...I go a bit crazy but tell myself to hang in and hold out for the light that must surely come...it is said that the darkest night of the soul comes just before revelation (dawn)...when all is darkness and all seems lost then comes the light and all that is needed.

So I send out emails to my friends.

Shawn writes back and points out that my alienation and disconnection is normal; it's culture shock. Culture Shock? Really? Being the nerdy researcher that I am, I immediately investigate this possibility.
"The term, culture shock, was introduced for the first time in 1958 to describe the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. This term expresses the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place. We can describe culture shock as the physical and emotional discomfort one suffers when coming to live in another country or a place different from the place of origin. Often, the way that we lived before is not accepted as or considered as normal in the new place. Everything is different, for example, not speaking the language, not knowing how to use banking machines, not knowing how to use the telephone and so forth." Dr. Carmen Guanipa
Of course!! That Shawn was on to something... why had i not thought of this before?! funny how understanding what the hell is going on is sometimes half the battle... I begin to get a handle on my emotions... a little knowledge CAN assuage the cunning demon within. In occult belief, knowing the name of the demon gives you power over it or at least gives you the ability to summon it, which is why a demon's real name is secret. This naming for me, this rolling its name on my tongue took away its power over me. How strange. It's a revelation. A sword of reason to brandish in the darkness.

Anyway, I decide to get proactive. I download Skype and now talk to Shawn. Sometimes just hearing the voice of a loved one makes all the difference. I also spend more time with new Madrid friends. And my other friends write back with encouragement and sweetness. I am blessed to have such caring people in my life.

Piso Hunting Nightmares...

As you can well imagine, not speaking Spanish has its own special hellishness when looking for a piso (apartment). I couldn't bloody even make my own phone calls though I did anyway. Sometimes I am fortunate and they speak English and other times I simply hang up in frustration. But this isn't the most vexing element of the hunt. In North America custom has it that you look for a place in the first week of the current month for the next month. For example if I want a place to live in for October, I look in September. Not so here. In Spain, custom has it that you place an ad for immediate rental. I got a lot of you must move in NOW...it's impossible for October. Huh? It takes me a long time to wrap my brain around what I consider a gross inefficiency. Still, I am undeterred and evermore determined to find a nice place to live. One with a modern bathroom. Not one with a pull flush and bad stinky plumbing. What I see was discouraging. I see dump after expensive dump. I see a place with a creepy guy who wanted a roommate/girlfriend, I see a place with 3 guys and a condom on the dresser of the room they were renting, I see a place with profane graffiti scribbled on the lobby walls. I also call a lot of places that have already been taken just moments before. Everyday I compile a list of ads. I even have German efficiency helping me. German Martina offers me her services for a few days. She compiles a list, emails, calls, makes appointments and comes with me for the viewings. In the end, she gets tired of it. She couldn't understand why it was so hard to find a nice place. She suggests I move to her German city of Bremen where she assures me the apartments are nicer and cheaper. No can do. So i continue to plug away. Everywhere I go I spread the word. I go to an intercambio (language exchange) night at J and J's bookstore coffee shop and pick everyone's brain on piso hunting. At the end of the night, a Christian lady takes my number for a friend who may still be looking for a roommate. I never get a call but I do feel proactive that night.

Then the tide seems to change. Aussie Martina, a new friend from the TEFL school, text messaged me saying she may have found me a place. Fantastic. So I go visit her and find out the scoop. The woman is a student of hers. She needs to learn English in a big bad way because she's trying to get a better job as an international trademark and patent lawyer. She mentions to Martina that what she should do is rent her extra room to an English speaker so that she will have to practice English at home but that she doesn't know anyone like that. Martina perked up and said, "I know someone." So we arrange to meet Maria Jose and see her place the next evening. The apartment is way the fuck south of the centre so I say it better be amazing or I'm not really interested. We go, we see, the place is amazing. Maria Jose as a large rooftop terrace, wifi, and modern bathroom and kitchen and the room has a double bed and a skylight. Sweet. We chat and her English sucks. I'm not clear on what it is she wants from me. Free classes? Someone to talk to a couple hours a week? An indentured English live-in tutor?! I don't know and she doesn't either. She is a plump 36 yr old curly haired lady who's been living alone for 10 years. She says that me and Martina will have problems finding boyfriends here because all the men in Madrid are gay. OK, so she's a weirdo but i still think this may work. The price is right. The place is nice. And all i have to do is talk to her. Make her practice her English. She tells me I'm perfect. She tells me she will email me. I have a good feeling. Martina feels good too. so I take a break from piso hunting for the weekend. Four days later, Maria Jose sends me email telling me that she likes living alone. I am more than a bit miffed that she took so long to tell me that. But this seems to be the way of the Spanish...things happen on their time with no regard to the value of other people's time, which is why they are notoriously late for everything. I chalk it up to a cultural learning experience.

So I'm am back on the hunt... Dale, the gay brit I'm subletting from, emails me to tell me that he is coming in on the 30th and he's bringing friends! will I be sorted? I technically get the place until the 1st. I email back telling him I am NOT sorted yet and that I'll get back to him when I am. No pressure. I begin to fear the worse... it's already September 19th so I cry... I've got no prospects...boohoo...maybe Madrid is rejecting me like a wood splinter wedged in one's finger... I call Nicola, another girl from the TEFL school, and ask her to help me call places with her advanced level Spanish. I go over to her place after work and we are able to make one appointment from my list. Earlier I make another appointment to see yet another place via email.

Can Myspace actually save the day?

Mark from Bristol, England is a creative weirdo who sends me a Myspace message one day. He mentions Woody Allen and Kurosawa and Jung. This guy has actually read my profile! So we message back and forth. When I am satisfied he isn't a total nutbar, we meet at the Reina Sofia and look at Picasso and modern art. We become friends - not the kind you add to your list and never talk to or message again, but one that hangs out with you in the real world. He knows of my piso hunting woes because I bitch and fret about it for an hour in Retiro Park on the first day we meet.

Then on the day that Maria Jose has rejected me and I am crying in self pity, Mark calls to tell me that he knows someone who is looking for a roommate. We make plans to see the place the next day. The day starts out with nothing but ends with 3 more places to see. Turns out the fat lady isn't singing yet.

Belen is a Spanish English teacher and her piso is in Lavapies, a neighbourhood famed for its overwhelming multicultural mix, its bohemian population and its drug dealers. I like her and her place immediately. Up until now she'd been holding the room for a friend of hers but this girl moved to Malta and didn't bother to tell Belen until after she was supposed to move in. So when Belen had Mark over to help put together the Ikea wardrobe for the room, Mark heard about the vacancy. He tells her about me. The world of piso rentals works in mysterious ways. The best places are often rented through this type of friend of a friend network. The place is not perfect but after everything I've seen, I decide to take it. The apartment is bright and roomy with a modern bathroom and kitchen. The living room has 2 full length windows. With any luck, I won't have to watch men piss in front of me every day like I do now (see view from my terrace). The room is interior so a little dark but that's fine. I'll spend my time in the other room. Belen is friendly and seems cool so I'm pretty happy all things considered. Mark and I wander around Lavapies afterwards. Down my new street is not one but two shops selling traditional belly dancing outfits. There's a Halal butcher shop, two fresh fruit and veggie stores, a 100 mas, the plaza, the metro all within a block from me. The Reina Sofia museum is a stone's throw away. There's an art house cinema down the block. I can get kebabs, curry, Chinese food and Spanish food within a two block radius. There are many many bars and cafes around. Lavapies is very central and close to all the major attractions. It's a cool place but I will have to keep my head up and my wits about me. It ain't the safest hood but it sure feels safer than the hood I'm in now. There's a community feel to Lavapies that's not there in Cuatro Caminos.

So it does seem like Myspace saved my ass... no myspace, no Mark, no Belen, no place for me to live and maybe I'd still be hunting...

I move in to my new home tomorrow... Olga, my current roomie, gave me a present (a wooden jewellery box) and told me I was a good roommate, everything was good and I can come visit any time... awww... what a sweetie. It's my last night here and I'm glad to be leaving the area and the apartment--the bloody fire went out in the gas stove while i was showering, again, and it took a few tries to re-light the fucking thing. Meanwhile i was shivering wet and suffering from a cold. argh!

So bye bye Cuatro Caminos, hello Lavapies...

V.This is just to say....
November 06, 2006
Keep your head down, your eyes on the street below your feet, there is shit, spit and piss everywhere. They don't tell you that in the travel guides but it's true. If you don't watch your step, you'll end up sole first in ubiquitous dog shit, latin phlegm, and/or pee puddles. Welcome to the BIG city.

Of course there are other vistas to feast your eyes upon... they clean up the tourist bits real nice... but let's face it, Madrid is not known for its great beauty. it's known for its museums and hyper social Gato inhabitants who can party all night and go to work in the next morning. I am too introverted and cash poor to appreciate this aspect of Madrid life. Plus there's the bit about not speaking much Spanish...

But i shouldn't focus on the city's excrement, the many expulsions of bodily fluids even though i have seen some things... like a hippy chica with colourful striped socks and big curly hair picking at her scalp on the train... she found something and promptly put it in her mouth and chewed on it... it was a discovery channel moment of sheer revulsion and awe.


Attitude counts for a lot and i have decided to change mine. I have decided to remind myself that i am ultimately on a working vacation and i can go somewhere pretty the next school year. Some place like the beautiful coastal north of Spain. i want to see ocean and sandy beaches and craggy cliffs while i struggle with the horrible darkness of my mind. i want positive reinforcement.

I also want my beloved's arms and his smile and his laughter and his way of showing me the flower blooming next to the stinking pile of shit... he says he's coming soon... moving here to be with me... so i wait and choose to adjust my attitude and hope the infernal rain (weeks upon weeks of piss and mist) in Madrid stops soon - i know they say we need it 'cuz there's been a drought for 2 years but i am self-centered in this way. i get that.

So anyway, this is just to say that i am fine. i have pulled through and i will most likely begin Spanish classes next week.

All will be bueno.

VI.Laughing under an Olive Tree..
Every Monday and Wednesday I teach four one-to-one classes from 9am to 1pm out at Campo de las Naciones (one metro stop short of the airport - in other words - way the fuck out there). The commute involves a brisk 15 minute walk to the train station down streets littered with dog shit, crushing myself into an overstuffed train, sweating in a tin can, getting off at Neuvos Ministerios station, wading with the crowd to the pink line, cramming into the metro, sweating more, getting off at Campo de las Naciones, wading with the throngs towards the surface then breathing a sigh. Air. Sky. I've almost gotten used to it.

Sometimes one or two of these classes get cancelled last minute so i get free paid time off. Sometimes, they cancel one or two classes in advance and i don't get paid. Anyway, there isn't usually time to go home so i've taken to bringing along my black notebook to write in. on rainy days, i write in the metro station, breathing in the stink of engine oil. On sunny days (which has been rare these past 7 weeks) i sit in a strip of green that lines the centre of a main avenida here: Avenida de la Capital de Espana, Madrid. The area is full of large modern glass buildings housing headquarters for multinationals (Cepsa, Johnson and Johnson, Genesis) conference centres, Feria Madrid, Telefonica Arena, hotels, etc. It is the "field of nations" and important events happen out here, such as trade fairs.

On Monday, after an hour of writing, i decide to wander around the area. i discover there is a modern park a couple blocks away, Parque Juan Carlos I, named after the King. Created in 1992, it has the nicest park toilets i have ever seen - clean loos, curved glass walls and 4 stand alone steel sinks. On Wednesday, i walk around for a hour in the sun. It is glorious. I am first drawn to a colossal O in the horizon - a gigantic sculpture that looks very much like a red lifesaver candy plopped on top of a hill. Later i meander through a small olive grove. i stop and pick a leaf and rub it between my fingers. then i look up and see dozens and dozens of olives in various states of ripeness. Green, brown, black little baubles clustered together on the same branch. I reach up and pluck a nice ripe black olive and roll it in my hand. I start to laugh. Not a mad laugh of a crazy lady but the soft laughter of a less insane one.

I am standing under an olive tree in the heart of Spain!
I am laughing under an olive tree in the heart of Spain.
Living in Canada, this thought alone would seed a thousand fantasies, and sprout a thousand secret gardens.
And so here i am, rolling an olive i just plucked from a tree on a sunny afternoon in November in Spain.
In this small moment all meaning is contained in the potent flesh of this symbolic olive and I am living a dream.
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