Tag Archives: Love

Madrid al cielo

A window in Vallecas

Look up, man. Not down.

A man with blood on his knuckles and his eyes on some weird kind of crack is riding the Metro. There is a homeless woman swathed in black who asks for centimes. A Peruvian immigrant down the calle Monte Perdido yells at her two sons, making them cry; neither of her children are  wearing shoes in a street with dog shit on every block, smeared in the crevices of paved lattice concrete. A Cerveceria strewn with rolled up, discarded napkins after the morning rush hour of cafe con leche and a bollo is quiet. Old men who gather on a bench infront of the Ajuntamiento, brown and wrinkled from the sun, discuss the end of the bullfight, the problem with “jodidas gitanas ladronas” and the lottery.

“Franco is laughing from the grave!” One says.

There is a paradox here: there is the constant smell of bad sewage and body odor and cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of baking bread and olive trees, lemons and expensive perfumes from the Corte Ingles on rich ladies who shop on calle Serrano. There is a deep, burning beauty in the eyes of a young girl who wears a red flower in her hair and swooshes an abanico in her dark hand. A family that meets at two for comida and a siesta in a city quieted by an afternoon of heat and closed up shop fronts. People are hot from the sun in Madrid. They’re thirsty. Some are hungry, suffering. But the suffering is like a season that lifts when the air is cool; when two young lovers meet by a window open to the sky.

The Manzanares

This is a revised piece

There is a river that runs through Madrid. It’s called the Manzanares, and he’s right. It is ugly.

“It’s not the Seine, y’know.”

“I know, I know. But I’m curious. There’s got to be something to see. Can we go anyway?”

“No, there’s nothing to see. It’s ugly and you have to take the Renfe Cercanias.”

But I don’t mind taking the Renfe if it gets me out of Vallecas.

So, I go alone and he’s right. It is ugly. Maybe he told me to get off at Principe Pio. Maybe it was Puerta Del Angel. I can’t remember now. But I wind my way through orangy brick tenements, with green, mangled awnings before I see the river and make my way to the Puente de Segovia. It’s nothing to see. I cross, pretending it’s the Pont Neuf or the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I practice pronouncing the line in my head that some day I will speak if I ever go back: Je suis a la recherche d’ une personne du nom de… And I remember the nights I stood at the Pont St. Michel at three in the morning, soul kissing the American after dancing all night at Le Balad’jo. It hurts to do this. But the Manzanares is ugly, and I am useless and apoplectic when it comes to finding beauty when it isn’t there. I’m not creative enough. The water is black. The air is cold. And there are huge concrete cinder blocks left like debris on the sides of the bank.

I head back down the understated arc of the overpass. It’s late in the afternoon and I don’t want the Spaniard to worry. But I’m lost—I miss the turn at Calle Caramuel and keep heading down Antonio Zamora instead—looking for the entrance to the Metro, wandering down a street where a Peruvian immigrant sings an unknown song of sorrow, tremulous and pulsating, from a terraza draped in laundry three flights up.

Saponification

Eight months ago, after you left, I learned how to make soap. In fact, I uncovered the buried truth that adding any number of additives will not, after all, interfere with saponification, and that soap is actually a paradox. It takes oil to remove oil. And so eight months ago I came up with this recipe amid the desire to create something out of nothing not realizing it had already been done:

24 ½ ounces of Olive oil


12 ounces Palm oil


4 ½ ounces of Cocoa butter


6 ounces Canola oil


1 ounce Palm Kernel oil


6 ¾ ounces Lye


17 ¼ ounces distilled water

I made the recipe, but I never actually made the soap, which is my eternal problem. I start a project and then quit. The travel agency that I wanted to start but didn’t. The consulting business I wanted to go into but didn’t. The trip to Marrakech that I swore I would take but didn’t.  It was the same with you. The moment you moved in I wanted to quit. You told me, “You have a fear of commitment.” I was defensive. I admit it. I snapped back, “I don’t have a fear of commitment; I have a fear of commitment to you.”

I wish I could relive that moment now. I would come up with something better, like “I’m just afraid. Bear with me.” Or something like that.

Not that it would have made you stay, but…it would have been worth a shot.

So, like I said, I didn’t make the soap. Instead, I listened to DeBussy’s Claire de Lune while ripping the apartment to shreds, getting rid of every trace of you lest I forget for one moment that you were really gone. I sang Martha Wainwright’s “Wish I Were” lying on the floor of an empty living room, until my voice shattered into broken glass. I read Hills Like White Elephants and decided, eventually, we were better off going our separate ways. And I watched really bad romance movies like P.S. I Love You and Ten Things I Hate About You and The Notebook, my hand on my belly, feeling somewhat content that, even though you were gone, you left a part of you behind.

There are two things going on here. A birth and a death. And I still can’t wrap my mind around either.  I should have just stuck to soap. But eight months is long; a year even longer. We are only reminded of the length of time at the end, when we have the sensation that we are back there again, having come full circle; empty, where before we were full. Or should I say full, where before we were empty? Sometimes when it seems everything’s been lost, it’s an illusion. Nothing’s been lost. Everything is still there.  It’s just become something else in the process. And instead of darkening the soul with the burden of love, it washes it clean.

Boob job

I’ve made peace with my breasts. This happened about five years ago in an Indian dress-shop in New Hope. I was flipping through a rack of Bandhani skirts, when I noticed my then two-year-old son groping the plastic bust of a naked mannequin. I whisked him away, a little disconcerted that I had given birth to a boob man. Not another one, I thought. Until I realized then and there, that an attraction to breasts is as inherent to the human psyche as food, water and shelter. And whether they be for the sake of sex, symbol or sustenance, I was blessed with the ability to provide all those things, not only to myself, but others. This realization, however, was a long time in coming.

A girl, who materializes Cs at age eleven, then Ds, then DDs at such a rate of growth as to portend alien-like peculiarities doesn’t look down one day and say, “well, hello there, aren’t you perky?!” Double Ds aren’t perky. And they don’t feel like the “gift” that smaller-chested women make them out to be. They’re cumbersome, they’re heavy and they draw far more attention than they should. They set their owner up for an existence of dodging spit balls to the cleavage, darting random and unexpected gropes and nipple tweaks in the hallway and bearing the unbearable when it comes to name-calling. “Nice rack,” I could handle. “Look at the jugs on her,” I couldn’t. Not to mention that bras are almost impossible to come by, especially if you’re only a 32 or 34 back. And running is completely out of the question. My survival in high school, for the most part, was therefore reliant on baggy clothes and walking around hunched over so as to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to my so called “gift.”

Adult-life wasn’t any easier. I had my years of being overly sexualized because of my size. I suppose I let society define me, which can easily happen to a twenty-year old girl looking for approval. And then again, they were right there in front of me, unable to be ignored. So, why not make the most of them? When they were perfectly round double-Ds that hovered midway between the bra-line and my upper chest, I have to admit, I could look at myself naked in the mirror and say, not bad. I could cup them in the palms of my hands and they’d pour over my thumbs and forefingers like a push-up bra from Frederick’s of Hollywood. I kinda looked like a porn star back then. And when breast implants had become all the rage, I didn’t have to worry. There I was, naturally curvy and well-endowed with these, dare I say it, cantaloupes.

In a sexual way, I felt like I had been blessed, instead of cursed, the latter of which I normally felt. But the truth is, I was insecure. I didn’t have much confidence or self-esteem and so, I easily identified myself as a sex object- not because I believed I was sexy, but because I believed others expected me to be sexy. I mean, let’s face it. Big breasts do have their benefits. One tight little V-neck sweater with appropriately placed cleavage goes a long way. Never any speeding tickets. Never turned away from pretentious nightclubs. Never lost an opportunity to flirt my way out of a variety of trouble. You can’t beat that. And that’s not to say that big breasts gave me carte blanche, but I am a firm believer that they got me a heck of a lot farther than my flat-chested counterparts.

But imagine a lifetime of white, thick-strapped, old lady bras, (forget about matching panties); or bending over only to have a nipple pop out at a rather inconvenient time; or not being able to run or jog. Forget about jumping up and down in an aerobics class without proper support. And men, young and old, and even women rarely look you in the eye or take you seriously. Worst of all large breasts have a way of making horrible first impressions. Why is it that chesty women are automatically assumed easy, dumb, sex-crazed or superficial?

After my own personal sexual revolution, I segued rather clumsily into the other alternate purpose for breasts: breast feeding. My double-Ds turned to triple-Es overnight after I had my first child, and started doing insane things: leaking, spouting, spurting, turning lumpy, bumpy and veiny and other unspeakable things. I felt like a cartoon character; a tiny host of a body attached to and dragged around by these two massive life-giving blobs that just kept getting bigger and bigger and seemingly had minds of their own. I was trapped. Imprisoned by the cycle of supply and demand. Forced into the hard labor of lactating. It’s no wonder women are so tired after giving birth. It has little to do with the baby.

And God help the hubby if he approached me in any kind of sexual way or wanted to touch me. What are you, nuts? Back off. Go to hell. My breasts were for one thing and one thing only: food. There was nothing sexy about lumpy, bumpy and veiny. And while the act of feeding my newborn was a miraculous and beautiful affair, and I did feel rather delighted at the thought of sustaining a life, I was at times quite fearful that I would smother the poor child with the breadth of my bosom.

Shortly after I divorced, and long after breast feeding, and after experiencing my mother fight breast cancer and win, and after experiencing my friend’s mother fight breast cancer and lose, and after turning 40 and accepting that gravity and life had done more than their fair share of vitiation, I had come to the sad conclusion that my breasts no longer had any purpose. They took on the aura of two weather beaten domes upon a rocky shore and I figured their future was a decidedly catastrophic one: they would either sink below my knees like stretchy, warm silly putty, or they would succumb to a cancerous fate whereupon they would ultimately be removed, thrown in a red plastic bag and sent to an incinerator.

With such a fate before me there was but one option left: I would have a breast reduction, or a lift, or some sort of plastic surgery. I would avoid the inevitable, or maybe just postpone it. Isn’t that, after all, one of the perks of contemporary American culture? If you don’t like the way something looks, augment it. With that being decided, I began my plan: interview doctors, make appointments, look for new B cups (how exciting!); and then, start the process of saying goodbye to the two objects that, like it or not, stuck with me, through thick and thin.

What was inevitable was that I wouldn’t or couldn’t go through with it. And the reasons were quite simple: For one, I loved bragging that my breasts were real. OK, so they were never perky and they were starting to droop. But I hated fake-boob culture and prided myself on being au natural. Why anyone would want to go big was beyond me! And even though a reduction wasn’t as superficial and offensive as implants, in my opinion, augmentation was superficial all the same (save in cases of disfigurement). It was glaring and expensive proof that I hated who I was, and that simply wasn’t true. Frustrated? Yes. But I believed (and still do) that many who undergo surgery to permanently change the inherent structure of their bodies do not particularly like themselves, or perhaps they have been misled to believe that “once this aspect of me changes, everything will be wonderful,” which is rarely the case. I didn’t want to be branded as having subscribed to either of those beliefs. Above all else, I wanted to be able to accept myself as is.

Second, what message would I be sending my sons? That Mommy is superficial? That I wasn’t capable of growing old gracefully? Or that it is conscionable to spend $10,000 on a nice rack when there are children living in squalor all over the world? And I couldn’t forget my youngest son, groping the mannequin’s breasts in New Hope. What message would I send him who seemed to have a penchant for mammarian protuberances? How could I instill in my children the idea that breasts are beautiful, of all shapes and sizes, and that healthy sexuality, if I had any hope of fostering it in my children, meant that as a woman and a mother I have a responsibility to celebrate my body, not condemn it or try to change it.

My breasts have placed me on a pedestal and they have knocked me off. They have given me great joy and have caused me back pain, embarrassment and unsolicited attention. At times, they’ve been fun. They have fed two human beings, got me into a couple night-clubs for free and have given hours or pleasure to one husband, two fiancés and numerous boyfriends. And despite the fact that, for the most part, they’re retired from having to “work” as laboriously as younger women’s breasts do, they are all mine, they are very much loved and they are still (yes, I’m about to brag) one-hundred percent real.

Andalucía

So, I had to scrap the idea of going deeper into the heart of Morocco, due to time and lack of resources, but I sold the Audi and by God, I’m going to Spain this summer.

I am excited about two things: summer camp for the boys and mine and D’s voyage into the south of Spain. We’re going for two weeks, the kids and I. D will come with us for the first 10 days. And while the boys are in an intensive Spanish language summer camp for one week (all-inclusive with sports, pool, activities, crafts, flamenco classes, day trips in and around Marbella, huge buffet dinners of tortilla de patatas, jamon serrano, lomo con queso, and of course, Spanish language immersion classes), D and I will drive around the south of Spain for seven days. Aside from being extremely nervous about leaving my boys in camp for a week straight (despite my sister-in-law K praising her days as a kid in summer camp), I am looking forward to an adventure of my own, albeit a more modest one than the previous I had imagined. Oh Sheltering Sky! I must wait a little longer for you.

Here’s the itinerary:

Day 1
MADRID
Compostela Suites
This was the only hotel that slept two adults and two kids for a decent amount of money (90 €). I settled for clean and contemporary because Madrid is SERIOUSLY lacking in hotels with charm and old world ambience. This is one of those new long stay hotel-apartment places for business travelers and families. So, I’m not sure it will have all the amenities as a regular hotel. But it does have a pool! And it’s right by the airport, which is all we really need as we will be catching a train for the South the next morning. Hopefully worth the night. They do have a little cafeteria, but hotel breakfasts are usually overpriced. So, I think it’ll have to be  churros con chocolate and some fresh squeezed OJ on the train’s dining car instead.

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Sol
  • Plaza Santa Ana
  • Retiro

Day 2

MALAGA
Hostal Pedregalejo
Now that we’re taking the boys to the south with us to stay in the camp in Marbella, we decided to spend an extra night in Andalucia. We’ll take the train to Malaga, stay for the night, and the next morning, we’ll hit the road for Marbella. On the way from Malaga to Marbella, we’d like to stop in Mijas, one of the white villages of Spain,  for lunch.

Day 3

CÓRDOBA
Hotel Hacienda Posada de Vallina
From Marbella we will drive up to Cordoba. This will be our first night of “old world charm.” The hotel was supposedly constructed before the Mosque itself, and the builders stayed in this hotel while construction took place. Furthermore,  it is said that when Christopher Columbus stayed in Cordoba, he lived in room 204 of the hotel. I can’t even wrap my mind around that idea. For dinner, we made a reservation at El Churrasco on Calle Romero.

Day 4 and 5
GRANADA
Hotel Casa Capitel Nazari
I stayed in this lovely hotel two years ago with my boys. In fact, I’ve asked for the same room because I was so pleased with it. Hopefully, they will fulfill this request. Like the hotel in Cordoba, this one too is steeped in history. It’s an “ancient Renaissance Palace, built in 1503,” located right in the heart of the Albaicin. From our room I believe you can see the Alhambra.

Day 6, 7 and 8
VEJER de la FRONTERA
La Casa del Califa
When you click on this link, be sure to take the “virtual tour.” This hotel is amazing. It’s a collection of eight buildings, some of which have been in existence since the 10th century. There are vaults, catacombs, terraces and even an aljibe (an underground water cistern) dating from 700 AD, all of which are naturally exposed unto the design of the hotel, giving a traveler like me the chance to experience history and present day at once. For more about the history of this hotel and the region of Vejer, click aquí.

While staying in Vejer, we plan to visit Tarifa. What I like most about Tarifa are the beaches and the possible nightlife. Apparently it’s a very young, sporty town because of the wind surfing, with lots of fun restaurants, night clubs and tapas bars. And speaking of tapas bars, a must while in Tarifa is La Mandragora. I’ve read only good things about it and their menu looks divine.

  • Day trip Tangier and Asilah
  • Walking through the Town
  • Wine and Tapas

Day 8 and onward…
MARBELLA to VALLECAS
Back to Marbella to pick up the kids and head back to Madrid. Once in Madrid, we will say goodbye to D and stay on another week with my in-laws in Vallecas. The kids will be taking classes for the following week only in the morning, and then in the afternoons, we’ll have lunch with the abuelitos and then maybe go to the Retiro or the zoo. I think after all that, I’ll be ready to come home!

Bits and Pieces: Roads

Sun. Bones. Hair swirling east behind us. Peels of laughter from the shadowy caverns of our happy insides. We drove west on impulse. We wanted to see the desert, as if it were a marker of how far we’d come, not only in our travels, but our lives. When we were younger it was all about the city. Paris. Madrid. New York. San Francisco. But this was the last stretch of living and we both agreed it was more about natural landscapes than sprawling conurbations. You were mountains and oceans. I was deserts and forests. In that sense, it was my preference that won out. It was my journey.

We had two credit cards, yours and mine, a Blackberry and our driver’s licenses. One suitcase. And an iPod that still played Death Cab and reminded us of those first urgent months of love when nothing separated us but the functionality of our street clothes when we had to wear them. We started off on 81, then, switched to 40 around Nashville. At that point we took back roads because I wanted to have fun. I wanted a purpose; I wanted to get lost and pretend we were running from the law, or in the witness protection program. America was a game board of diversion from Philly to Knoxville to Nashville to Memphis and westward.

And then there was Advada’s Diner near Little Rock. How we ended up there I still don’t recall, but it had the best coffee and toast we’d tasted since Harrisburg. You and I agreed. Even the eggs were amazing. And yet, it was the Last Supper- it was the last time food tasted palatable and luscious. It was the last time I was able to hold anything down, the last moment the sky looked so big and blue, and the last of the games. And it was the last moment I could laugh at your jokes and love even your ugliest parts, and look into your eyes with an unalterable naivete, because in Little Rock, or rather, leaving Little Rock, shortly after breakfast you told me about Susan, and the visibility of the road soon grew dim.

Bits & Pieces: Karen

My friend is an artist. She’s visiting from England. She’s staying with us for the next four days. She’s never been to Madrid. Once, a long time ago, when her parents were still together, her mum and dad took her to Torrevieja on summer holiday. All the Brits holiday in Spain. They come down in July and August and no matter where you go on the coast you only hear English. You never hear Spanish, and when you try to speak it, you’re cut off and the shop keepers answer you in English. It’s frustrating because I’m not a tourist. But Madrid. She’s never been to Madrid. So I promise to take her everywhere.

I’m so happy that I cry when I see her at Barajas Airport. I see her beautiful brown skin in a sea of white and when she’s there, right in front of me, I hug her and don’t let go. It’s been ten years.

I’ve fixed up her room; the room overlooking the red roofs and green awnings of the gypsies that live behind us. The ones that have the chickens in cages on their terraces. My mother-in-law gave us R’s old twin bed. I found a desk for cheap at the flea market. And I bought posters of the famous bullfighters and a set of old red curtains there too. She will be able to see the sun come up from this room, and I can’t say that I won’t be a little jealous.

In Paris, we shared a one-room chamber-de bonne in Les Halles. It had a double bed, a shower, a toilet and a formica-top table with two chairs.  Maybe even an electric double-burner for cooking. I can’t remember. She never slept at her step father’s place out past the Bois de Boulogne because he’d make her watch the baby all the time, and she felt so far away from all the fun. Instead, she’d let herself into the courtyard of my apartment and yell up to my window to be let in. 26 Rue Rimbuteau. She wanted to be in the center, with me.  She was nineteen. I was twenty-one. We partied all night, missed the trains, walked back home at three, four, five o’clock in the morning and then slept all day. Sometimes we woke up with our legs wrapped around each other, and then laughed about it over a coffee down at the Saint Placid where we’d go for breakfast if money came in.

“For fuck’s sake, the closest thing to me getting laid is sleeping with you, every night.”

“Oh Karen. You really do live a rah-ther pathetic life…” I always tried to copy her London accent. She appreciated the effort.

We’d do shots of espresso, smoke long brown cigarettes, flirt with rich Americans doing semesters abroad and “get pissed” every night at the Violon Dingue. We never went back to the Alliance Francaise, where we met, taking classes. We remained together. Each other’s foreign education. From there on out, we lived a rah-ther cliché, expatriate life, and came of age where only a lucky few, privileged girls do.