September 11, 2005
Today we moved out of Hotel Paris and into our host homes. I was saddened to go as I had made good friends with the bellhop and it means leaving Sol. I took a cab to Calle General Diaz Porlier and met with my host. Her name is Luz Helena. She keeps a very neat home and as soon as I arrived she explained to me the rules of the house which I found reasonable. She seemed very pleased at my knowledge of Spanish and confessed that she had never had a boarder with my proficiency. She then began to tell me about her life as I unpacked my bags. She has a doctorate in Political Sciences and actually worked for many years as the diplomat for Colombia in Spain (ipso ergo: she knows A LOT of dignitaries and famous people). She is from Bogota, although her whole family is from Ibague (where Lina is from). Then I explained to her my dietary preferences: no eating too late at night, lots of fruits and veggies, keep it light and healthy, and small servings. ( I am really having a hard time adjusting to the Spanish eating schedule and their cuisine, although rich and delicious, it is proving too heavy for me…I predict that I will be gaining a few pounds if I keep this rhythm). She told me that she bought me a case of Coca Cola Light (their version of Diet), which I found quite funny considering that the night before I was preaching to Lina the dangers of soft drinks. I told her I don’t touch the stuff and she promised not to buy me anymore. Then she took me for a stroll to get to know the neighborhood a bit better. I actually lucked out a great deal because I am in an excellent part of town (streets lined with Louis Vuitton and Dolce and Gabbana stores…talk about putting on the Ritz) and I am a 20 minute walk away from the Institute. After a short walk we stopped into a bar for the aperitif or merienda which consisted of a glass of wine and a small slice of crusty bread topped with very high quality seasoned tuna, roasted bell peppers, and a drizzle of liquid gold (my new name for olive oil). It was quite a tasty merienda but it left me light headed as the wine was very strong and I am a featherweight when it comes to drinking. Then we met up with Luz Helena’s lifetime friend named Pilar or Pili at a local deli. She is 84 years old and stronger than any 84 year old I know; I hope that when I reach her age, I am at least half as well as her. She was the first female pharmacist to graduate from La Universidad Complutense, where she also received a Master’s in Theology. The lady is a genius and razor sharp for her age. She was buying some very special seasoned olives from a small province in Spain, some Manchego cheese and half a loaf of bread. Later we went to her house and she insisted that we take merienda…although we already had taken one…and she made fun of Luz Helena by calling her the town drunk. For merienda # 2 we had all those tasty tidbits Pili was picking up at the deli (and boy were they delicious, I could have eaten those olives for ever) and some beers, which they call cañas. They started bad mouthing Bush, and I joined in with great gusto which I think made Pili really like me. I really like Pili; she is amazing. By the time I was done with the beer I was drunk. When we went home I was falling all over myself as I tried frantically to appear sober and finish unpacking. Luckily Luz Helena served lunch and it helped me to get a hold of myself. For lunch we had steak prepared in anchovy sauce with broiled potatoes and a salad. I was only able to eat a meager portion, after those 2 meriendas, and I think this made Luz Helena sore because she told me my parents will think that she is starving me. I assured her that they would appreciate it more if she starved me rather than over feed me. After lunch we went for another stroll, this time a 2 hour long one, around the shopping district, which was bustling. Luz Helena took me to the Institute walking, so I could know how to get there and she showed me the Colombian (behind the Institute) and American embassies and gave me some names of people I could talk to in case of an emergency. After hour 2 of our walk Luz Helena seemed parched, so naturally we stopped in at a bar for another drink…if I try to keep up with this woman I will soon kill my liver, but according to her she drinks for health. We had some butifarras with our beer and they were scrumptious. Then we head back home and tried (unsuccessfully) to contact Lina to see where we could go tonight. Instead, I fell asleep, and slept for what felt like hours. I have been so tired these days that when I get back home I think I will look like I’ve aged 10 years. The fact that everyone here smokes wherever they want (including in the hospital!) won’t help to preserve my girlish good looks either. I woke up at 11:00pm and watched Spain’s version of American Idol, which was funny because they were singing in English with terribly thick Spanish accents. One guy butchered the crap out of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York and the lucky bastard actually won the night’s contest. Go figure. Spanish people put up with way too many commercials, it seems that they take all of their commercials in at once because they lasted for well over 5 minutes and they were the same ones over and over again. I have the Pascual Lacteos jingle permanently seared into my brain. Now it is 2 in the morning and I can’t sleep, and waking up at 7:30am is going to be a bitch, but at least I get to go to el Parque del Buen Retiro tomorrow (Madrid’s answer to Central Park) and I am thoroughly excited about that. I promised to meet Lina at Sol at 10:00am so we can go to El Rastro (the flea market) and maybe have some churros y chocolate for breakfast. I hope I don’t have to see much more of my classmates all over town; it really is getting to be a nuisance. I didn’t want to come to Spain to meet Americans, so I will be making a conscious effort to meet more Spaniards, preferably all the really hot ones I see everywhere…I love this town!