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The International Writers Magazine: From Elaheh's Blog on Spain - Archives

Elaheh Farmand

In Madrid, the first day A stranger walking in your skin, through the calles, the streets of this beautiful, beating town
. Women and men observe each other, every move and gesture, every smile. They look at your shoes, your hair and your eyes. I like Madrid.

Today, I became a stranger and walked through the streets of Madrid, searching for nothing. I looked around, lost and content with not mattering to anyone or anything. And the Madrilenos watched as I made my way in and out of the metro stations. I found Mueseo de Prado by accident. I followed a sign; I was bored. Then I found a movie theater, Cinema ideal and asked what I could watch at that precise hour. Death at a Funeral, an English movie. I made sure to read every subtitle line for I had come to learn. I hit the supermarket, the one I found accidentally as I was lost, looking for my house. I wanted to buy apples, but for some reason the cashier didn't accept them. I didn't understand what the problem was, but I assumed that, like Belgium, I probably needed to put a price sticker on the plastic bag. I wanted those apples…

Senora Fidalgo is sweet. She is a lovable lady of class. She smells good and dresses nicely. She practices speaking with me and asks if I want dinner.

In Spain, the afternoon starts after 3. One is still morning. So my breakfast is until 11, dinner at 8:30. I was served cereal, grapes, coffee, lemonade and toast today.

Madrid, Spain-
I have a new set of keys for my new house in Madrid. I live with Senora Ana Fidalgo, her 16-year old daughter, and my new roommate Becca. Senora cooks dinner and prepares my breakfast: cereal, toast with marmalade, coffee, juice, and a sweet pastry. She has dirty blond hair and blue eyes. She is fascinated by my love for movies and cinema and writing. Sometimes, during dinner, we talk about Iran or how Americans are different from the Spaniards. We don't always agree, but we somehow understand each other. I speak in broken Spanish and she throws in a few English phrases with her thick accent, laughing amusingly afterwards. After she offers me fruit, I say thank you and go off to my little room.

I ride the metro everyday, following signs and arrows, walking fast, my eyes wandering like a common tourist. The Spanish like to observe. They look at my shoes, my hair. Unlike Americans, they don't normally smile as you walk by.
A week has already passed. I no longer have trouble with my keys-during the first few days of my arrival I had trouble opening the door on multiple occasions, one including a late night return and waking up the Senora, which was evidently an embarrassment. And I no longer have to ask the Spaniards where Calle Hernani, my street, is. I follow visual signs that I've made for myself and take the same route home. I get off the Metro at Cuatro Caminos, make a left, cross the street, walk down a couple of blocks, turn left to where there is a huge poster of Penelope Cruz with bright red lipstick above on my left, walk straight to where there is a Starbucks and H&M, turn left and there is Hernani 57. Sometimes I stop by Carrefour, the supermarket near my house by the McDonalds and buy bread and water. The more I go, the more confident I feel. I now know that I have to weigh fruits and put a price sticker on them, that there are two different kinds of baskets and carts, baskets on wheels, normal ones and carts that require money. I also have a good idea of where most things are, which makes me look less like a foreigner.

There are times where middle-aged, old men stare at me openly, turning their heads as I pass through people on the sidewalk. I anticipate this everywhere, for here in Spain glaring is a norm. I have found interesting styles of fashion: women with bright red hair (yesterday I met one with blue hair). I have also seen old ladies with fancy fur coats.

The food in Mardid has been nothing but delicious. Paellas, tortillas, Churros (sweets), coffee and salads are among the many. Because the Euro is expensive and our school fee doesn't cover lunch, we try to save, so our lunches are sometimes bread and cheese, or in my case, bread and honey!

I wake up at 7:40 and make it to school by 9:00, thirty minutes before classes start. I have a hard time deciding what to wear, for in Spain people dress up. The weather has been a gloomy at times, but Madrid is normally a sunny city.
There is nothing more beautiful than waking up in a strange place, without words or your usual thoughts and worries, walking for what seems like miles and finding yourself in the middle of Madrilenos who read their papers and books on the metro. What's more fascinating is that everyday you are becoming something else, a fusion of everything you ever imagined of yourself…or nothing you ever thought possible. You wake up in a dream and no one recognizes you and you are obligated to nothing and no one. It's like this: You are 20 years old and you feel like your life has just started.

Madrid is sunny today and I smile as I make my way home. I can't hide the smile that is forming on my mouth, the smile of contentment. I have been challenged and feel like I'm finally faced with something completely different, strange, scary and beautiful. I feel pretty and misunderstood and lost and happy all at once. My head has been spinning, translating word-to-word, sentence-by-sentence, sometimes forgetting everything. I wake up and there are so many words in my head that I forget where I am.

The sun here hides behind buildings, once in a while reappearing when no one is watching. I miss nothing of who I was and what I did before I left. I simply want to keep walking in the calles and watch the Madrilenos who watch me.
What happens on the streets, on the sidewalks, and everywhere else happens with a certain degree of calmness and tranquility. No one rushes or gets in line to go. No one sips coffee while walking to work. People like to sit, take their time, have coffee breaks and enjoy life, sun, a bit of gossip. Madrilenos are not punctual; time has a different concept to them. As I wait, early as always, they arrive slowly, talking in their sweet, thick accents. Inside the metro, I never worry, never get nervous. Those around me are peaceful, relaxing with music or the day's paper, or talking quietly. There are times that musicians aboard the train and play a three minute song, get their donations and give thanks before hopping to the next train.

Drinking coffee is a pleasure, a custom of every true Madrileno. One is never served with a plastic cup. Everything is elegant, prepared and warmed. If one asks for coffee with milk, the milk is heated an extra time if one wishes.
I missed nothing today and liked being an extranjero, a stranger…because sometimes you understand yourself better when no one else does.
This is my sweet dream…and I like to keep dreaming.

I meet a lot of people on the metro. People who only gaze at you once, and move on, hopping off to another train. People who hope to read you in what little time they have.
I met a man once, a Spaniard. He was about 28 years old, with a scar on his mysterious face, tired eyes, rough, worked hands. He had a ring on his finger, but not a wedding ring. His eyes were searching for something. He wasn't an ordinary man, but one of interest, personality, a wounded soul. A man who was not easy to read, who had suffered something deep, something that had left him fatigued, scarred within. I watched him as he got off, walking away to the right, gone forever. I would have liked a moment to see him again, even to talk in what little I knew. But he was gone, his scar forever in my memory.

Everyday, I encounter the oddest, most peculiar faces. I like to listen sometimes, just to hear the sound of their voices, the pitch of their accents, the movement of their lips. I like to see what makes them interesting, what makes them so out of the ordinary, so foreign and impenetrable. Inside the metro, outside under the sun of Madrid, inside the bars and restaurants and clubs, on the sidewalks and inside dense underground walkways…

Today I meet Mercedes, my Spanish exchange partner. She is in her mid-twenty's, brunette, with a beautiful accent, pink lipstick and a cigarette. She has been a smoker for six years and wants to quit but only when she is ready. She is an actress, playing parts in theater, hoping to get a part in television. Her boyfriend of four years is in Barcelona. This is her longest relationship so far. Mercedes is a coffee addict like myself, so we walk to SOL and find a quiet, tranquil spot outside under the sun, order two café con leches and talk. We have divided the time to talk both in English and Spanish, for she too is trying to learn English. We both love the city, but for different reasons. I decide that she is a true Spaniard who loves cinema, coffee, beer, theater, fiestas and all that Madrid offers.

We part ways and I walk back home, content, tired, sleepy, but no longer lost. I once again realize that I have made the best decision of my life, that I have done something extreme and grand. I get off my stop, go up and around, leave the metro station, pass by Penelope's beautiful poster on the big brick wall and take out my keys. And the sun starts to disappear behind the towers of Madrid.

Jazz blend
She takes a puff of the cigarette she bought a few minutes ago, exhales and a gush of smoke flows in my direction, diluting the space between us. This bar is dingy, but decorated with a bit of jazz and a colorful wall of art, a shelf of alcohol. Mercedes orders two coffees with milk. While we wait, she talks about her job, teaching theater to young kids and teens. She says the children surprise her with their talents and that they are easier to work because they are forward, open and honest. Today she is wearing a black hat, pink lipstick and boots. We walk up hill to a quiet, clam part of the town where there are small pubs and little stores, antiques and second-hands. This is her favorite barrio because of its narrow streets and tranquil atmosphere. Mercedes says that I understand her very well and that my Spanish isn't bad. I tell her that I would like to know more Spaniards. She says that I can go out with her friends one night.
"My friends get drunk all the time," she adds, laughing.
"The better. I like drinking," I smile as I reassure her.

We talk about cinema, Almodovar, Julio Medem. She pulls out a film magazine so I can decide what we should see one day. Mercedes wants to study in London but is worried about her English. I tell her not to worry, that she is doing fine and will learn in no time.

She takes me to the metro and then we part. The city is gloomy, cold, and yet still full of vibe. The madrilenos are still rushing to get around, and I am now a part of all. I am now a part of the evening rush, the nocturnal sky, the crowded sidewalks, the bricked buildings, the gust that comes after the metro trains, the maddening smoke that the man next to me exhales. I am alone, yet again, writing, but I feel guarded, secure, like they have accepted me as the strange creature that bears the same physique and yet is lost for words. I now order my coffee with more confidence. I walk faster and rarely stop to look. And I want to get to know them. I want to ask them. I want to remember them.

This is the life in the heart of Madrid, where you can stay up until 6, while it's still dark, the streets still tainted by cigars and beer bottles, shattered glass and garbage. You can stop for Churros after a night of clubbing and drinking at 5 am. Then you can catch the train at 6 when it opens again and walk home, watching Spaniards make out in the corners, still drunk, still wasted. You can be a part of everything and experience what you will never experience again the same way. You can blend in, learn a new route and go on forward...

I suddenly miss talking. I miss talking about how I feel about being intertwined in this crazy, loud, outrageous city. I want to talk about how I am constantly trying to form sentences in Spanish, and how I feel like I understand so much more but that I still lack words, still don't have time to conjugate verbs. I want to wander around the city before it's time for me to part, but am always sleepy and tired from class, always starving, always thinking of coffee to save me. I miss the sunny days, the first few weeks when everything was new, every sangria tasted different, every word prettier...I feel nostalgia even for that first day when I cried on the phone, hopelessly lost in contentment, when I ordered a cup of tea outside a cafe and had no idea where I would go next. Isn't it funny to feel nostalgia when you are content, when you have just begun something, when you are still inside a dream?

I have evolved. I feel strangely optimistic for the future. Despite my love for Spain and this new form of independence, I feel that I am able to go back and not suffer in misery. I like this transformation. Here in Spain, I am always happy. Surly, there are dry days, routines, homework, boring classes, and too much Spanish, but in the end, I like it. I greet the security and the doormen as I enter and leave the building and they greet me back, sometimes asking how I am doing, how my Spanish is. I turn the keys with full confidence, knowing that they will always work. I have made visual memory of important places I go so that I don't get lost. And overall I am satisfied, really satisfied with being a stranger. I sometimes relish the fact that men call out "guapa" as I walk hurriedly by, completely ignoring them, or that people begin to speak Spanish to me because they can't tell where I'm from.

Tonight, Senora and I talked about my past a little bit, about my first visit to Europe when I was 11, about the rotten school system in Iran and how as a child I was always afraid to speak up because I was taught to keep my mouth shut. That to this day I don't like to comment out loud, or to express my opinion verbally. That I still don't like to make mistakes. I told her that sometimes I forget I lived that life. Me olvide...

I felt good about this talk, felt good that I was challenged to think rapidly in Spanish to recount the past to a woman who's known me for no more than two months. And now I am writing to say I miss talking.

But the nostalgia will never go away. It's like that feeling you get when you are in a bus, going home after a short trip to a new place, the feeling of loss as you watch images behind the window as the bus moves. That bittersweet feeling of what you saw and felt, but what you then lost in a moment of transit...

Madrid and I
I spent the weekend alone, for the first time it was just me and the streets of Madrid. Madrid and I have a lot in common. We like the sun. We lust coffee and ice-cream and sun dresses. We admire gorgeous women and handsome gentlemen. And we like walking without destination, without prior thought.

So I walked around and discovered new places. I had coffee in the middle of the afternoon before lunch and then later sat on the grass amongst others and the wind blew in my face and my hair became tangled. I laid on my back and closed my eyes and when I opened them again I knew I was in the happiest state of being, I was content with everything around me and everything about myself. I watched the people around me, drinking beer, smoking a pipe, with their music or a book on their lap. I sat by the little fountain and the wind became stronger so then I decided to go home. I got home at 7 and had dinner with Senora and her boyfriend and we talked about Iran and the Shah and the revolution and the war and everything that was wrong with the world. Then I saw Cruel Intentions in Spanish and fell in love with Ryan Phillipe all over again and downloaded the bittersweet symphony soundtrack and have been listening to it since.

Today I walked around my house, but crossed over to the opposite side so I could see what's on the other side. I passed a little playground, which I never knew existed. On my way back I craved ice-cream so I got one from McDonalds and enjoyed it under the sun. I then tried on a dress from Mango and felt quite amazing and then left without buying it, which made me a bit sad. None of my friends are available today and I haven't spoken to anyone in three days and I am so ready to get on my plane to Brussels and just sleep.

I have gotten used to Madrid now and although that initial spark of lust is somewhat lost, I still love it everyday when I wake up and know that it is mine and that I can come back one day and start all over again. Sometimes you live a different life and you realize you can do more than you thought you could. You realize the world is bigger and there are more people to meet and you are inspired to change not for others but for yourself. You get a set of keys and a new room and you speak a language that isn't yours and yet you feel entitled to it. You miss a little of what you left back home but then you enjoy the new and the bizarre and you live in the moment and make sense out of it. Then you get used to it and it becomes natural and amazing and beautiful and you don't want to leave.
And that's what I've come to realize.

Al fin
The skies in Madrid are darker now, more solemn, perhaps a bit tinted. The sun plays hide and seek and the winds come with more fluidity. I am spending my last days here, leaving in a month, which will happen faster than I can keep count of. I am still content with my cup of coffee, with my Senora's beautiful smile and her sweet tongue. We have been talking more, eating dinner together, commenting on the weather, the food, the ways you can cook tortilla with or without cebolla, onion. Her mother, she says, is the only person who doesn't like tortilla with onions because the whole world does. We talk about sangria and how too much of it can upset your stomach. She asks how I feel, how I like the classes, how I sleep. At dinner yesterday, she asked if I were thinking or if I were preoccupied with something.
And I have been thinking, about returning, about what I am returning to. I miss home. I can finally say it. But there are always these questions: what I am to do when I get back? What have I learned about the person I was and the person I am now after having lived alone for four months?

I struggle to find the right words, but I only manage to say that perhaps I have had too much to eat and need to rest a bit. She smiles and understands, then offers to let me watch some television. This morning she asked if I were feeling better and was glad to hear that I were.

These are the things I am going to miss. The way this room smells, the sound of pots and pans clinging outside of my window from the other apartments, the smell of her kitchen and the taste of every food, the morning coffee the minute after it is done, the moments after when she walks in hurriedly to the sink, then says hasta luego, see you later and closes the door behind her, the way her green eyes lit up when I tell her something unbelievable and surprising, the way she laughs after the interesting things I tell or simply for the way I say them.
"Pues, nada, al fin...", is what my senora says after every dinner, when we have said all there was to say, when we are tired and ready for bed, and the food has settled in and it is time for us to part.

Elaheh majored in English at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. 
She is a writer and has a blog called (
e.farmand at

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