far too much writing, far too many photos

Saturday night: found myself in attendance at a dinner given by my neighbor, a bright, attractive 50-something woman who runs a residencia for students. The kind of international affair I used to experience regularly during my first months in Madrid, when I spent weeks and weeks in intensive language classes, slapping together what I hoped would be a workable foundation of spoken Spanish. Three and a half hours a day penned in a classroom with people from all over, punctuated by frequent extracurricular activities — bouts of conversation over midday meals or plates of tapas/cups of coffee; nights out wandering the city. Fun, with a multi-national character I’d never experienced before. Stimulating. Satisfying.

The last time I found myself in a gathering of that sort was Christmas Eve [see entries of December 27, 28 and 30]. My current language classes — the adult-ed variety: three evenings a week, an hour and a half at a pop — are also an interesting mix of nationalities, but the students have day jobs, have lives that consume their time/energy. More serious overall, mostly a bit older, less given to frivolous bursts of socializing.

I’ve been curious about the flat across the hall (in keeping with my chronic, nosy craving to get a peek into virtually any living space — an extension of my overdeveloped people-watching thing). This is an old building, with cozy, compact apartments. Not cramped, but not wildly spacious, at least if you want to pack more than two residents into one. And depending on the space and the residents, two can be pushing it.

Groups of students come and go, days of quiet giving way to busy periods, various languages echoing in the hallway — Spanish, French, English. When I’m in my kitchen, I often hear my neighbor, Esperanza, at work in hers. Or her TV, her radio (usually playing Radio Olé, the only Spanish station I’m aware of dedicated completely to Spanish music, a strange mix of (a) pure, potent traditional, (b) sentimental, muzacky pop, and (c) more blatantly commercial top-40 fare).

Her kitchen/pantry is right off the apartment’s entryway, I’d been in there on a couple of occasions, chatting. Saturday night was my first opportunity to scope out the rest of the space. Esperanza rustled about finishing up food-prep., two of the attendees keeping her company (a smart, attractive, post-university, spikey-haired Norwegian woman; an intelligent, college-aged French guy — both extremely simpático, both speaking very decent Castellano). Introductions, a bit of chat, then I grabbed a couple of platters of tapas-style stuff and sherpaed them to the other end of the flat, where the small living room had been transformed into a dining zone.

A tall, shaven-headed, late-20’s male sat on the living room sofa. Quiet, appearing uncomfortable. Dutch, it turned out, from Amsterdam, speaking very limited Spanish. Esperanza appeared, placing a big platter of cauliflower (steamed, then briefly sautéed in olive oil and garlic — addictively good) on the table, everyone took a seat.

A scene like this is one version of paradise for me — a table covered with plates of excellent food, all of which I have permission to ravish (within civilized limits). It’s all I can do to keep myself from regressing to a primitive, slavering state, gruntingly shoveling piles of chow into my mouth in a frenzied display of primordial impulses.

We’re eating, we’re conversing. I’m enjoying my companions, I’m checking out the surroundings. Esperanza has Radio Olé playing its weird mix of tunes, volume just low enough that the music doesn’t infringe on talk. A forest of framed photographs is arrayed atop a low table off to one side, family and friends smiling out at us.

[continued in entry of May 14]

Madrid, te quiero.

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