It’s Thursday afternoon and 5:40 p.m. here in Madrid, the time when I’d normally be half an hour into my afternoonly workout. Yet here I am in bed, really not up to much of any motion save tap-tap-tapping at my keyboard. I think it’s high time, too, considering my last update came a whopping 10 days ago and a lot of things–good and bad–have passed in that time, including a trip to London, a world-class airport flip out committed by yours truly, and the landing of a tutoring job that’ll pay me 40 euros an hour. So. Lots of things, no?
So. Just to reiterate and to serve as a partial disclaimer for this entry and all writing contained therein: I am tired; a deep, down to the bone, foggy-brained, language-muddled kind of tired. My spiral downward to this state began last week when I stayed up late, preparing for my vacation to the U.K. On Thursday I left school early, rushed home to thrust the last few odds and ends into a suitcase, and hauled to the airport, playing hurry up and wait for my 8:50 p.m. flight to see Ali in London. Here’s what I wrote whilst waiting at the gate:
One enormous chocolate bar, a cheese bocadillo the size of my forearm, and a liter of lemonade with hierba buena later, I am seated in Barajas, waiting to bard my plane to London. As always, I’m a little nervous about spending a shitton of money as I know London’s expensive, but I’m too full of tortilla and too sleepy after a full day at school to be too acutely nervous right now.
It’s strange to me to be sitting here amongst two babbling Americans to my right, an Irish family of four to my left, and a couple of chattering Spaniards across from me. I’m trying out in my mind the notion of being able to communicate freely in English for the first time in five months and it completely boggles my mind. In a few hours I’ll be able to ask for a round trip Gatwick Express ticket without second guessing myself, or will be able to inquire of anyone I see “Hey, can you direct me to the nearest grocery store?” and they will effortlessly tell me. And I? I will, equally effortlessly, understand! I will receive this information and get my ticket or find the grocery store. I can imagine it, sure, but after 5 months of Spanish-as-a-second-language-style navigation of Madrid, I can’t really believe that soon it’ll be real.
Despite my EasyJet (“It’s like traveling in a flying bus” said Ali–and it was, duct tape, graffiti and all) rolling up to Barajas a good half hour late, and that the Spanish concept of “waiting in line*” was in full effect, the trip went off well, though I found the flight crew–all of them– grating.
I don’t like my pilots smiling for the same reason I don’t like my nutritionists fat: your physical presence and countenance ought to reflect your profession. All I’m saying is, hey, flying is a serious business, so come on and put on your serious face. And helping people get skinny is a demanding, aesthetics and health-motivated career, so if you’d like to retain any vestige of credibility while you’re helping motivate me to quit the gummy bears and chocolate bars, lay off the buttery goodness yourself. And you: if you’re flying my plane, for fuck’s sake, I’d better not catch you jackal-grinning up there in the cockpit while I’m boarding my plane. Whatever it is, I can almost guarantee that it isn’t that funny. Eyes on the skies, Bonzo, or I’m coming to tan your ass in the afterlife.
Fortunately, all of the irritation melted and a type of bewildered reverse culture shock set in the moment the flight got off the ground and the pilot and flight attendants began speaking to the passengers. The flight crew was speaking to me in English. They offered me an overpriced mini-coke, in English. The fussy, highly makeupped flight attendant named Josie primly requested I stow my bag fully beneath the seat before me in achingly proper English. When I got off the plane and trundled wearily through the halls in Gatwick, people who hit into me, first of all, said sorry (what a concept! apologizing for bodychecking someone! this does not happen in Spain), and second of all–said sorry in ENGLISH. The first “Oh, s’cuse me, sorry!” threw me for such a loop that I only stopped and stared, totally uncertain as to how to respond. The strange concept had come to life: I was immersed in ENGLISH for the first time in months.
By the time I’d made my way through the airport and purchased a ludicrously expensive (28 pounds–that’s 56 USD, y’all) Gatwick Express ticket, I’d begun to grow accustomed to hearing English. I was not ready, however, for the shock of coming face to face with an airport café that offered nothing but fresh juices, flavored sparking waters, pre-packed salads with REAL (read deep green) lettuce, sandwiches constructed of slices of thick wheat bread and chunky egg salad, 8 oz. cups of pro-biotic yogurt, and fresh fruit cups.
“What?” my incredulous eyes screamed to my incredulous brain, “readily available comestibles that aren’t fried or tortilla bocadillos?”
I think my brain was too tired to reply, so “FRUIT CUPPPPP! MWAAAAA!” my incredulous (but greedy) stomach screamed instead. So, despite germs and social decorum, I wolfed a fruit cup of mango, grapes, pomegranate and strawberries and desperately slugged a liter of lemon sparkling water as I waited to board my train to Gatwick. And God Said It Was Good.
Within five minutes on the Gatwick Express I’d made friends with a brit named Jason. He boarded the train, passing me by and saying, “Oy, does this train go to Victoria?” (Victoria being London’s main train station)
“It had better,” I replied, “or we’re both severely screwed.”
He grinned, passed me by, then changed his mind and came to sit in the row of empty seats in front of me. Jason, I quickly learned, owns a recording studio called The Funky Bunker on Portabello Road near to Ali’s house. While he works with mostly reggae and soul musicians, his studio’s biggest claim to fame is that they produced the intro to “Jenny On The Block.” Yes. THAT Jenny On THAT Block.
Our first 2 minutes of conversation went like this:
“So I’ve just got back to London from five days in Cannes,” Jason told me.
“Yeah?” I asked, “What were you doing there?”
“Was at a music convention. Lots of producers rubbing elbows and all, doing business, but mostly just partying. Haven’t done anything like that in years, but it was good. Didn’t get out of hand ’til last night.”
“What happened last night?” I asked, curious and sensing the potential for a good story.
“Well,” he began, wrinkling his brow and scratching his head, “I don’t rightly now, but I woke up in the hospital.”
“Oh my!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah!” he said, smiling and looking bemused and dazed. “And now just I’m all sore and stuff. ‘Specially my knees. I don’t really know what to do.”
It was out of my mouth before I could help it. “Well, if I were you, I’d start with an STD test and a check for anal fissures.”
He stared at me for a full fifteen seconds, then burst out in laughter until there were tears rolling down his face. “You’ve got a dirty mind, girl, ” he said.
“This is very true,” I agreed.
We talked for the rest of the 35 minute ride about music, the possibility of a recession in the United States, about the (then impending) Super Tuesday and Barack Obama, and about the importance of having dreams and the drive to see them through. By the time we alighted at Victoria, I had London restaurant recommendations, two new CDs, and a new friend.
“That’s me,” he said. “Jason Price,” pointing out his name on the back of the CD he’d handed me. He was an exceedingly nice man. I hope his knees feel better.
I met Ali who’d been waiting for me for an hour in the chilly train station, by the Burger King in Victoria. “Not the most romantic of meeting-places,” she’d texted me, “But I’m here!” I shook hands goodbye with Jason, excitedly hugged Ali, and we then headed above ground to board a double-decker bus to Ladbroke Grove–all of this glossed by a very thoughtful Ali who’d procured me an Oyster Card (London’s equivalent of the Abono) ahead of time. For a half an hourish I saw London by night (12:10 p.m., to be precise), and began my catch-up with my friend. The catch-up got so intense, in fact, that we missed our stop, necessitating a 20 minute, blusterly and utterly frigid wee-hours jaunt to Ali’s flat, the wind blowing against us all the way. When we finally reached “home” I was delighted to find that my friend lives above a fish and chips shop. “Welcome,” I thought, “to London.”
We talked, middle-school-sleep-over-style, early into the morning until I fell into a weary sleep.
PART TWO of London via notes from the Moleskine (with photos!) to follow!
*”to wait in line,” Spanish style, the individual must crowd as close to the perceived “front” of the line as possible, spread out in a fan-shape, grumble, push, groan, and inquire loudly “¿quien es el último?” or “¿quien da la vez?” no fewer than 14 times. It is also preferable that you avoid or saucily return the stare of any irate foreigners whose concept of “to wait in line” carries with it some ridiculous notion of a straight, linear formation of human beings.