Happy fall, Vassar friends! Unfortunately, it still doesn’t feel anything like fall here in Madrid, and even more unfortunately, there’s no pumpkin spice coffee for me to at least pretend that it does. Though it’s getting cooler, on most days the temperature reaches 90°. I love the summer more than anything, but I must admit that Madrid has me begging for some brisk autumn days.
Since my last post, I’ve arrived in Madrid, settled in with my host family, and started classes at la Universidad Carlos III, located about 45 minutes away from my homestay. I’m living with a señora—an older unmarried, widowed, or divorced woman—in an apartment in Moncloa, the last stop on line 3 of the metro. So far, my señora, Esperanza, and I have been coexisting quite nicely: I don’t have a set dinner time, so I just let her know when I’d like to eat on a daily basis and she prepares my meals for me accordingly. I have my own bathroom and a tiny but comfortable bedroom; she gives me my space and we both do our own things for most of the day. Esperanza calls me mi vida (my life), or cariña (love, more or less), feeds me way too much, and tells me how guapa (lovely) I look all the time. She always takes care to make sure that I have anything I could ever want or need, sends me off with snacks when I leave for class each day, and irons all of my clothes (excessive ironing is such a Spanish thing). It’s a pretty sweet deal, actually.
On the not-so-sweet side are my classes here at Carlos III. I’m taking a linguistics class, a language class, a Sociology of Gender class, a literary theory class, and come October 31 I’ll add a six-week surrealism course to my schedule. I’ve always been aware of how lucky I am to go to Vassar—I’ve always found my classes to be exciting and my professors passionate and engaging for the most part. Most days I leave class with something I didn’t know before, or at the very least, a seedlet that will blossom into some kind of new consciousness. However, most days I arrive at Carlos III feeling fundamentally apathetic due to the lack of academic difficulty (I barely have readings or homework ever) and also like I’m lugging the burden of fighting the patriarchy to class with me every day. In fact, my experience could easily be entitled “A feminist goes to Spain.” Not only are my classmates not as socially aware, but I’ve even found that the professors reinforce gender stereotypes in class—yes, even in my Sociology of Gender class.
On the first day of class, for a warm-up exercise, the professor asked us a series of questions, and we formed groups based on whoever had the same answers. One of the last questions was, “What do you like to talk about with your friends?’ The professor went around the room and asked the other groups of students for their answers—movies, books, gossip. When she got to me and Alix, another Vassar student, we said matter-of-factly, “El femenismo!” The professor, however, thought that we had misunderstood the question which, of course, had been posited in Spanish. She said, “No, you know what do you like to talk about when you’re just hanging out, relaxing with friends?” “El femenismo,” we maintained. Given the puzzled stares of our classmates and the head-scratching of our professor, we had already identified ourselves as the odd ones out.
Can you imagine the prospect of being the token feminist in a gender studies class? So far, the rest of the class has gone exactly like you would expect it to when on the first day people stare at you like you have three arms.
Aside from these kinds of mishaps, I’ve really enjoyed living in Madrid. The metro is clean and easy to use, and, with my metro map in hand, I feel pretty unstoppable. As we were leaving Santiago, I suddenly had the jarring realization that I didn’t know if I would like living in a city. I’ve lived in suburbia for my entire life, and the prospect of an urban space after spending two weeks walking the cobblestone streets of Santiago seemed mildly horrifying, especially for someone like me who isn’t that great with directions. Santiago has a very laid-back, vacation feeling to it as a city, so the prospective hustle and bustle of Madrid didn’t seem exciting to me as I packed my suitcase for my flight.
However, 27 days later, I can say that I truly love Madrid. Each barrio has its own distinct vibe, and I’ve had a great time discovering what each of them has to offer. Malasana is a hip, artsy part of town with thrift shops and cute cafes; Chueca is a hub of gay culture with fun bars and booming nightlife; Lavapies is the place to be if you want ethnic food of any kind. Most days I make it to one of these spots to grab a drink in the evening or to laze in the Retiro—one of Madrid’s largest parks. Going to the Retiro has definitely become a go-to for me and my friends. It’s the perfect spot to walk, picnic, or take a mid-day nap in the sun. One afternoon my friend Sarah and I intend to join the artists who congregate in the park to do some sketching.
Other than the park, other lugares imprescindibles (impressionable places) have been el Mercado de San Miguel and Productos Extremeños. Surprise! These are both food-related. The market is an indoor one that offers some of the best Spanish and non-Spanish food I’ve had so far in Madrid. There are a bunch of counters set up, boasting everything from sushi to gazpacho and macaroons (the latter of the two which I tried for the first time at the mercado). It was a great place to try a little of everything—the true Spanish way to eat—and we all left full and happy.
Productos Extremeños is a sandwich place a short walk from Carlos III’s campus owned by two sisters. The inside is covered with cards boasting hundreds of possible combinations of sandwiches and salads, many of them named after the students who order them. My favorite sandwich is the “bocata Karen”: Chicken, avocado, brie, apples, and honey. I’ll have to start ordering something unique if I hope to get one named after me, though. Here’s hoping, Vassarinos!