Monday, September 19, 2005

Madrid Nightlife, Groceries, Segovia and Pseudo-Hot Chocolate

Ever woken up at 3am to a guy screaming in Spanish over a loudspeaker with loud dance music blaring in the background? Oh, no? Well, welcome to my life in Madrid.

The term "the city that never sleeps" is a bit´s more like "the city that never shuts up". I mean this in the most literal of senses, because that´s what it is. At all hours of the day, people are outside, attending festivals, meetings,´s non-stop. I seem to hear a man on a loudspeaker droning on at the back of head all day...

This past week, there was some sort of Communist gathering that occurred over the weekend. From about 8pm till some unlawful hour like 5am, there would be hundreds of young people hanging out in the plazas listening to people yell out Manifesto....Hail Che Guevara..something like that. It´s kind of brutal when I know the construction guys are also going to start work at 6am. By the time I fall back asleep, I´m gently awoken by the sound of a piercing, thudding drill at work below me.

We went out Wednesday night and usually back home, stuff in bars and clubs all close down by around 2am. Well here....people don´t go home generally till 6am. I am amazed by the noctural stamina of the denizens in this city. The amount of events you could attend are never ending. Flamenco dancing at the metro stop at 10pm? Drum circles in the park? The city only comes alive after 11pm.

Another little thing that makes this place interesting. Some people just have no problem expressing themselves loudly in public when riled up. One evening, we were all hanging out on the terrace of my friends´ apartment when we suddenly hear this loud shouting from below. A woman was yelling something obviously very vulgar and vitriolic at another person. She rounded the corner as we all gathered around the roof to look at the scene below. What made it MOST hilarious is that all the other residents in the other apartments had also come out to their windows and balconies to check it out as well. I felt like I was in ¨Coronation Street ¨ ( that cheesy Brit soap ) where really, all the neighbours come out to see what the commotions about. I couldn´t help but laugh when I saw this shirtless man sitting in his underwear, with his gut hanging out, also lean out to see what´s going on---what a sight!


I´m used to buying food from big groceries stores. The one stop pick it all up kind of deal. I decided to be adventurous and go to the local ¨food gallery¨as it is called here and to pick up my groceries through individual vendors. Once again, it´s that whole local community spirit that I love. It´s definitely a dying cultural event. I walked around and looked at all the produce that each shopkeeper had....some only had meats, others only had vegetables. I had no idea what I would even make with the food I bought, so I decided to just approach the shopkeepers that looked the most friendly. I bought eggs and exactly THREE drumsticks from this one stand. I was proud of myself for being able to point and communicate a little. The lady looked at me oddly...probably wondering what the heck was this girl doing asking for exactly three drumsticks.. ( I had shake and bake in mind but they don´t have that here...)

After my first purchase, I milled around and yo-yoed between two different stands for vegetables. One looked cleaner and a little bit more organized with younger workers. The other was an older gentleman who was just surrounded by baskets and up to the ceiling in vegetables. I opted for the second choice because I wanted some substantial conversation. It turned out to be really enjoyable and something that I definitely don´t think we have at home. The guy was hilarious...I´d ask for something like tomatoes. He´d reply by asking me what I was going to do with it..I had no clue how I would prepare my stuff and so he´d show me different kinds of potatoes to make different dishes. Same thing with a salad. I said I was going to make a spinach salad and so he´s telling me how to clean it and boil it, he gave me different kinds of tomatoes and it was just so cool to have a guy not just sell you some vegetables but advise you on how to prepare the food depending on what you were making.

I wish more services back home were like this. In the corporate, cosmopolite society that we´ve evolved into, I feel that the personal touch to service has been completely lost. If anything, I would always go back to this gentleman to buy produce just for the conversation and his helpfulness. Honestly, some of the veggies I bought weren´t in great shape, but I know he wasn´t ripping me off or anything..stuff here in Spain is a lot more natural and less pesticide-covered like the stuff back home, so it won´t look completely red and rosy or stay ¨fresh¨ for two weeks. I simply appreciated his kindness and was thoroughly impressed with his knowledge of how to use and prepare the vegetables.


Saturday, six of us went to Segovia, a little Spanish town that has been crowned a UN World Heritage site. It really is quite spectacular. I wish I could post photos but I just don´t have access to a scanner and I don´t have a Digie. Segovia is primarily famous for three things : a 2,000 year old Aqueduct, a ginormous Cathedral and Alcazar, the castle that Disneyland designed its own after and the place where good o´le Chris Columbus was appointed to check out the New World. Aye, Aye.

Overall, I mainly enjoyed just being in the little town. The cobblestone roads are impressive, it´s one lane everywhere. Literally, when a car comes by, you have to almost plaster yourself against the wall to not get hit. The city has an almost ship-like formation to it, where the castle sits at the ¨bow¨of the city and the aqueduct would be the butt, or the ¨stern¨. They had a medieval festival going on, so there were people dressed up in 16th century garb. Some guys were playing music with a type of clarinet, drums and other brass and percussion instruments that I can´t name.

The aqueduct is really quite impressive...but I guess it seems so odd, b/c it just sits there and it seems so detached from this modern day period. I wonder how water used to be drawn from this massive structure. It spans probably about two or three big city blocks.

The cathedral took two hundred years to build..we walked in when there was a mass going on. The ceiling is what impressed me the most and I loved the stain glass windows. Since I have zero knowledge of construction and archiecture, I am baffled and awed by how they can build such a grand structure. How do you get the guys to build up these columns and paint in the windows? Did they climb, or have pulleys..? The details in the church were awesome.

The castle, honestly was disappointing. It´s tall and high, but the inside isn´t very big. The ¨royal bedroom¨had a few chairs, and like a double bed. I was expecting this King-sized mother of a bed...the neat thing though, was that the ¨comforter¨ on it, was embossed in gold. You can see the gold thread woven in the red fabric. Most of the other rooms just contained armouries, history and artefacts. My favourite part was looking at the old books that were kept in glass containers. I loved looking at the writing and the font of the writer.

The neatest part was probably just walking up the 152 steps to the tower adjacent to the castle. I was a bit claustrophobic at one point, b/c it´s a very narrow and steep stairwell. The worse is, it´s the only stairwell and so people are going up and coming down the same way. It´s pretty have to literally stop and smoosh yourself against the wall so others can get by. There aren´t any support structures, so if you fall.....just don´t fall.

At the top of the tower you can overlook the city. The city looks a bit like Napa Valley again, and definitely being in Segovia made it more real for me that I was in Spain. In the afternoon, I went for a walk with one of my guy friends and explored the city a bit. We were trying to get to the other side of the aqueduct and ended up hiking up to parts of the city that were totally away from the touristic stuff. I really liked it, as we saw two guys playing the saxophone in this vandalized ghetto corner of this rundown building.. Beside them was a bunch of boys playing soccer in this neglected looking court. Furtherout, one could overlook the whole town and see interesting buildings built right on the side of the cliff across from us.

Now, the one thing I was really looking forward to doing that day was to drink what I thought was pure chocolate melted into a cup of hot chocolate. Earlier in the day, I had seen this menu where they showed photos of this rich, melted chunks of chocolate in the cup. As the day progressed, I was increasingly fantasizing about drinking this melted Spanish chocolate and so we all went back to this café for an afternoon dose of cocoa. I eyed the menu again and decided that I wanted the one with mint. I was so excited that I was the first to go up the counter and order.

In my mind, I had imagined blocks of chocolate being pulled out, melted and poured, hot and thick as tar, into a steaming mug. As I open my eyes to see this realized before me, the waitress, who was this adorable little thing wearing a yellow uniform, goes to the cupboard behind her and pulls out a...yes, a.... A PACKAGE of ¨hot chocolate¨ with ¨menta¨ (mint) inscribed on the front. I don´t know if my jaw fell away or if I gave any indication of my crushing disappointment, but I tried to hold back a giant sigh. I watched as the girl slowly and meticulously poured the package into a mug, mix it with milk and hot water and pour the whole thing together.

The taste of it made the disappointment greater. It was much too thick...I felt like the liquid inflated and filled out my esophagus when I swallowed it....foamy milk with glorified Carnation-like Spanish hot chocolate powder. Drinking milky air definitely was a sad moment for me.

The sadness, of course passed. It was redeemed by the fact that there are worse things in life than foamy fake hot chocolate....


Blogger Stefanie said...

Heng-zi -- I love reading about your adventures and all the different sights. The community market sounds great, I love that "realness" too ... Also laughed about hanging onto the walls when cars pass by, and the hot chocolate. Authenticity is hard to come by these days, isn't it. Keep posting! I'm reading :)

12:35 PM  

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