First thing this morning I had an appointment to see a piso in the town center at 9 a.m. Patri had offered to accompany me, and so I swung by her place before checking out the apartment which overlooks the Plaza del Ángel. I immediately liked the style and feel of this fourth-floor living space. It was older, and had a (decorative) chimney, cozy yet spacious living room, and luminous bedrooms. Perhaps the most stand-out quality was the cleanliness, which suddenly made me realize how grimy the apartment I’d seen the day before had been.
Maria, the girl who was renting the apartment, lived by herself in a room a bit off from the main apartment. An older student, she seemed level-headed and serious about her studies. Her rules were simple—keep it clean and absolutely no parties. She seemed agreeable, but two things made me hesitate: 1) Maria only wants to rent to foreigners. There are 4 rooms available, and so I’d have no guarantee that I’d be able to live with Spanish speakers. One of my personal requirements is indeed to live with native speakers; since my job means I’m speaking during English during the day, I want to make sure that I’m improving my Spanish in the off-hours. 2) The fourth-floor digs come without an elevator. Normally I’m a stairwalker, but when you’re lugging groceries or jelly legs up so many stories after a day of walking, 4 flights can seem like an eternity. Also, did I mention that I am lugging around 50 pounds of STUFF? No? Well, I cringe just thinking about 4 flights of stairs after already leaving a Hansel-and-Gretel-esque trail of sweat over the metro stairs. I told Maria I’d think it over and call her the next day.
Patri talked the apartment over with me, noting some other pros and cons I hadn’t thought about. I was very grateful that she’d been there with me, able to point out how the heating unit was new, the location far from a good metro route, etc. She helped me sort out my thoughts for a few minutes before I had to head back to the residencia for orientation.
Orientation for today consisted of picking up a packet of information for the rest of the week. I now have a schedule for Monday through Friday and a better idea of what will be going on. For most of the morning and afternoon I sat in the first floor communal area, typing on my computer, looking at apartments, and meeting new people. When my computer battery died, I packed away my laptop and really got to know the people around me. I’m meetings so many fascinating folks from all over the US. Most of us are based in Madrid, but there are also Teaching Assistants in Asturias (in Northern Spain) and Valencia (to the southeast). Other Fulbright researchers are scattered all over the country, and even the Andorran teaching assistants are attending our same orientation.
Lunch was at 2, and most of us, not yet acclimated to the Spanish eating hour, were pretty hungry. I had my first serving of seafood paella, which was saffron-y and instant comfort fod. The only torpe thing was that I wasn’t entirely sure how to dislodge clams from their shell and prawns from their outer cover. Are fingers okay to use at the table? This knife isn’t cutting it.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and meeting more grantees. After a dinner of more fish and salad, I went out with Kara, a fellow Madrid TA. We walked to a bar/cafeteria close to our residencia to get something to drink, and on the way were serenaded by boys that are most assuredly staying in our same building. All week we’ve been party to their antics, a sort of hazing done by the older boys to the younger. This is known as novatadas. The first-years are made to eat spicy peppers with ice cream, hit on girls, say silly phrases, etc. Tonight we watched as two boys dropped to one knee and exclaimed, in English, “Good night, ladies!” (We didn’t tell them that this is not considered a greeting.) They boys asked where we were from, exclaiming, “We love USA!!!” Then, one of them pulled Kara’s hand to his lips and kissed it. The other boy, kneeling in front of me, suddenly swooped me up. So, now I can say that I’ve been here 3 days and have already been picked up (literally) by a Spaniard.