I arrive with the blazing sun high in the sky. I check the address then check it again. Yup, right place. The building I am standing in front of is so ancient, it doesn't have a buzzer outside. I have an appointment to see a room inside so I call the woman to tell her I'm here. A few minutes later a young dark haired man peeks out the front door and motions for me to follow him. His natural ebullient chatter fills the lobby but can't distract my eyes from seeing the building's disconcerting state of neglect and decay. There's a layer of asbestos and plaster dust all over the floor and the piles of construction detritus that is scattered in the foyer. The building looks abandoned. He tells me he's just a friend who's staying for the week.
As we ascend, my hopes DEscend. The young fair haired Spanish woman showing the flat greets us at the door of the 3rd floor apartment. Kisses are exchanged and I am led in. The apartment is big but it looks a lot like a squat. It has dirty walls and a general derelict feel. There are two rooms on offer. One is small with a bunk bed. The other is very large but shabby with obsolete computer towers and guts lining the wall. She tells me both rooms are available and that she and her reticent Moroccan boyfriend would be happy to move into the smaller room if I would like their room. Warning bells ding dong and I get really creeped out. Waves of distrust wash over me and so I try to politely beat a hasty retreat. I smile and say 'no thanks' to water and while I engage in a little small talk about the neighbourhood, I am SURE this ain't the place for me. I smile more and thank them for their time and leave.
2 hours later I receive an email from her telling me off. They have been stewing and they've decided that they don't like the way I treat people and that they want someone "good". "Good how?" I wonder, "good for what?" This confirms it. She's a fucking crazy paranoid. I mean, I didn't come for tea, biscuits and friendship, I came to see the room for rent. I do, however, write back a polite note saying that I'm sorry they feel this way and I wish them luck.
This was apartment # 4 in what turned out to be a relentless month long search and viewing of 19 apartments. Why so many? Was I just being fussy? Perhaps. In fact, I was asking myself this very question after seeing apartment # 10 (see nervous dancer below), when Bono's voice crooned " I still haven't found what I'm looking for," over the speakers in the bar I was resting at and I knew the search wasn't over. In my defense, I saw places that were dirty, dingy, depressing, dark, tiny, some had no living rooms, others had no windows in the room, one was a dorm for young girls on a street littered with junkies, another building was under such major construction, the construction dudes told me to enter with care, a few were on really dodgy dimly lit streets, some were too far away from Lavapies village - cross the Glorieta de Embajadores and it's a different world.
And then there's the potential roommates... one landlady was a repressed, strict, spinster cat lady, another potential roomie was a weirdo American dancing english teacher who laughed nervously and told me I probably wouldn't get raped on his street because there's always lots of people around, but perhaps the biggest problem was finding another non-smoker to live with. There were also a couple instances where I was shown the place by the vacating roommate but would have to wait until the last minute to meet the current roommate, who was, of course, the one making the decision. So I persevered and with a mere 6 days until the 1st, I finally found what I was looking for.
V meets me at the metro exit and we walk up the street I've walked hundreds of times in the last 2 1/2 years. It is my old street. The old one I moved away from when M moved back to Canada. When I get inside I see lovely old dark wood stairs and plants on every landing and I grow hopeful. The apartment is a weird space with an exposed bathroom facing the kitchen, but it's also big and beautiful, with antiques, old tiles and a balcony overlooking the street. So I go home and let the seed grow. V, a generous although somewhat reserved IT guy, is normal enough to live with but quirky enough to have chosen such a place to live. I sleep on it and in the morning I decide I've found home and so then the rest is moving boxes and unpacking history. With the help of V and his car, me and my 6 friends manage to get all my stuff up 4 floors, no elevator, without any problems. Afterwards we relax over beers and baklava in my new digs and I feel blessed.
When I wrote Piso Hunting Nightmares, I was fresh off the airplane with barely enough Spanish to buy a cup of coffee. Finding a place to live then was a different type of bad dream. This time, 3 years later, I did my own calls and saw places on my own and even engaged in a little small talk with prospective roomies all in Spanish. How proud am I? Very. One trick I used to augment my basic Spanish was using email to send a blurb in Spanish about me to all the ads that seemed interesting. Another trick was using sms to arrange appointments if at all possible. These tactics proved to be very useful in my piso hunt. This time it was more adventure than nightmare.
I'm now unpacked and mostly settled in. Still need to put up my postcards and posters and whatnots but that'll come. I'm nesting slowly. I find myself sitting and watching the street life from the balcony a lot. It's a strange sensation to be back on a street that holds so many memories for me and yet my view is now from a different angle. Literally. I'm now on the 4th floor. I see rooftops and heights I never saw before. I can see my old neighbours standing on their balconies and my old next door neighbour's little doggies on the sidewalk. Hola Lucy. Hola Chispa. I see the dudes from the kebap shop going about their business. I have vivid visions of M and me. We were once a part of the life on this street... So I'm facing the ghosts, swallowing the bittersweet changes, and watching the gentle passing of summer into autumn. It's grand what a change of perspective can give you. It's beautiful and peaceful up here and I can see the moon!
Tomorrow I'll post photos from my new place so stay tuned!