A Minute in Madrid
Two months from today, I’ll be back on a plane headed towards New York City and that is something I cannot wrap my head around. It seems like a lot of time, but essay, assignment, and application deadlines mark the time a little too neatly.
The Spanish sense of time is very, very different from that of New York City. The past two summers I have had the honor of interning at organizations in downtown and midtown New York, respectively, and receiving an hour lunch breaks. In both of these areas, you cannot go one block without at least two or three food establishments and a few shopping stores. Those hour-long lunch breaks fragment into: 30 minutes for eating, 15 minutes for walking, 5 minutes for window shopping. Every second that you wait at the crosswalk is a second you’re losing on your lunch break or a second that you could be late to an important meeting; this explains the hoards of business-attire-wearing men and women scurrying past honking yellow taxi cabs during green traffic lights. This is New York City, 24/7, 365 days a year.
At most pedestrian crosswalks in Madrid, you have to play a game of “who’s going to cross first?” with the cars and buses, but, thankfully, drivers show a lot of respect, so no need to really worry. This being said, there’s an obvious difference in patience and pace of life, but understandably so: I’m no longer at the center of corporate America. Even though the economic situation isn’t so good in this part of the Eurozone (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece), even though Spain is “less happy” than it reportedly was five to eight years ago, the picture painted in the media is a bit more bleak than I see it before me. Here’s a day a Madrid as I’ve come to know:
In the morning, bar tenders are really your average, friendly restaurant servers, serving porras (big churros) with Cola-Cao (Nesquik-like chocolate milk) and/or zumo de naranja (fresh orange juice) to other adults stopping by on their way to work. While the employed are working and the young ones are at school, tourists, street entertainers, college students, and the non-employed make up the hustle and bustle of the city. Even during the work day, the madrileños are out and about. For lunch time, bars offer their menú del día: an appetizer, a main course, desert, some bread and your choice of wine or water–all for usually 10-12 euro. Whether this is too much food or totally worth the “bang for your buck” is up to you, but remember, your Spanish friends won’t want to get dinner until past 9 p.m. If you’re lucky, you’ll have time to enjoy the siesta either in your own bed or laying down out in a nearby park, probably El Retiro (the “Central Park” of Madrid). We’re almost at the end of October and it’s only just starting to get chilly, so bring a light sweater if you plan on staying outdoors. Come evening, you’ll have finished your homework (right? 😉 ) and will be able to enjoy the night outdoors. Dinner in it’s cheapest form are the sacred tapas (small, inexpensive portions of food), raciones are a step up in portion size, and if you’re really hungry you can just buy a meal but that might cost a bit more. When the clock strikes midnight, the young adults pour out to the city. Nightlife in Madrid mainly consists of bars , some with live music, and discotecas/clubs. The night typically extends to 4 a.m., even as late (or early) as 6 a.m….a phenomena I have not gotten accustomed to after my two months here., but props to my foreign exchange counterparts who have. I’m not saying it’s sustainable to live this way every day as a college student, but you’ll find yourself adapting to this schedule sooner or later (except getting home so late.) Just like at home, there are pizza shops open for when you get a bit hungry on your way home. My roommate calls it re-cenar (second dinner), sort of like Taco Bell’s “fourth meal.” 😀
“We may not have much money, but at least we’ve got enough for our bread, wine and cheap tapas,” joked on of my Spanish professors. Though it’s very difficult to keep financial struggles from affecting one’s daily outlook I’m pleased to see how Spaniards strive to make the best of their days. History is splashed all around me leaving me no choice but to dive in and join them. Whether it’s walking around Getafe to take in the olive oil aroma in the air around lunch time or sitting on the cobblestone ground of Plaza Mayor or scoring free sangria around Calle de las Huertas, there is a lively calm in the midst of Madrid that makes it a place like no other.