Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Back to Madrid

Wendy’s Birthday was last week.

It had been a month since I had seen her, so I took a week off and flew over to be with her. It was wonderful. Flying is much easier for me now. The more I do it, the easier it gets. I’m also doing my best to not have anxiety over irrational things. Flying is the safest way to travel. It’s also nice knowing the airports now. Its more familiar and not this “country boy lost in the big city” kind of feeling.

Wendy picked me up at the aeropuerta at 9 am and we took a taxi back to her beautiful marble floored apartment with the massive terrace looking out over the city. It was about 50 degrees. We spent a great deal of the day sipping wine, talking, and watching movies on her laptop. Said laptop being perched on my lap as we lay propped up in bed.

Wendy and I are introducing each other to a lot of new, I don’t know, genres I guess. I get her hooked on “A Song of Ice and Fire” she gets me hooked on “Grey’s Anatomy.” We show each other our favorite movies the other might have missed. She shows me another country. I teach her how to play Magic.I take a nap in the middle of the afternoon and wake up to find her reading “A Storm of Swords” next to me.

I get some coffee, wake up, shower and then we head out to a couple of places she’s wanted to try. One is a beautiful restaurant just across the street that specializes in Paella. We head over at 8:45, but they’re not even open yet. Everything is later in Madrid. 9 pm, socially, over there is like 4 pm in the states. Restaurants are just barely opening for dinner. We head back across the street to a new little tavern that has just opened and get a glass of wine. A charming little place and they love Wendy. I’m not sure if the Spanish people are friendlier to strangers than in America or it’s just the fact she’s stunning and wants to give them money. But everywhere we go, they love her.

I get a Red Bull and some olive tapas come, but I don’t have any. Saving my appetite for Paella.You might remember, the last time I was in Madrid, I had a stomach bug. I wasn’t sure if it was a reaction to the food, or if I was sick, but there were many things I could not eat and it was distressing. I’m supposed to be moving over here and I don’t want to be spending every day in Burger King. We chat with the locals for a bit, one of them doing his best to speak in English and assure me that he’s not hitting on Wendy, it’s just the way he is. That’s right you huge muscle-bound bald guy, you fear the King of the Fatties. Its very jovial and a nice half an hour excursion into a place Wendy wanted to check out.

We head back across the street and the restaurant is open. Since it’s so very very early in Madrid, we’re the only ones in the place the entire time we eat. We order some seafood Paella and some oyster mushrooms. The mushrooms are delicious. Large flat things soaked in olive oil with tiny bits of chopped meat on them. The Paella comes and looks delicious. I love rice. I love seafood. How come last time I was here I took one bite and almost hurled? Must have been a stomach bug not the food because I eat a plate and half of the stuff and it’s fantastic. Rice with mussels, a couple kinds of shrimp, and cigala! Yay cigala!

Sunday was a relaxing day. We stayed up way too late talking and feel pretty logy most of the day. I play a little Magic, but not much. We watch about five episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and I love it. My folks have been telling me how much they love this show and I can see why. Very well done.

Monday was a work day. My visit was a bit of a surprise to Wendy and she’s too busy on projects for her work to take an entire week off and I told her that was fine. I wanted to come over and have a “slice of the future” week. See what life is going to be like while I’m there and we’re both working. And I do need to do some work. My column is due at 6 EST for Star City and I haven’t even started it. Considering my columns are 10-12 pages long, it takes a while to write one. I write while Wendy makes some calls and answers emails. We take a break mid day to get some lunch and go to another place that made me ill last time I was in Madrid. A little cafe that specializes in spicy muscles in a tomato sauce. Sadly, they are closed, so we go for the Chinese food right nest door.

Wendy explains to me that the food here will be a little different. Chinese food is adapted for the Spanish culture here, just like it’s adapted for the American culture at home. I never really thought about that, but, it makes sense. The inside of this place is stunning. Beautiful paintings on the walls and ceiling. Very nice young couple running the place, and a dozen or so customers. I order some sweet and sour pork, hot and sour soup and shrimp fried rice. The hot and sour soup is okay but not great. Of the six places I have had the soup, it rates about third. It has more veggies in it than in anyplace I’ve tried it in the states. The pork is a little different, but delicious. Definitely a place we’ll return too.

We head home and stop by the hardware store and the fish-market for some Salmon for tonight’s dinner. I get back to writing my column and Wendy does some more work and then cooks us half the Salmon and a spinach side. All of it delicious. Wendy does some research on Plasma versus LCD TV’s and I finally finish up my column and send it off.

The next day is Ikea and electronics day. See, our first major purchase is going to be a forty inch flat panel. She has a narrow living room, and a 10 inch TV. That just won’t do for either of us. We take the metro to the outskirts of the city where all the superstores are.

I have my Levi jacket on because it’s supposed to be cold here, but it’s really not. It’s like 55 degrees. Everyone around me is wearing winter jackets and I’m sweating in a Levi. I leave the Levi home the rest of the week and marvel at all the people wearing hats, gloves and winter jackets. As I type this, it’s zero degrees in Vermont. I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt. When I go out, I’ll wear a winter jacket, but no gloves, no hat. I’ll probably go out running tonight.

Yes, I am that rugged.

All Vermonters are.

Anyway, we spend the day looking for the top rated TV we have our eye on, but none are in stock anywhere.

“Let’s head to Ikea.”

”Sure, what do we need in Ikea?”

“A nightstand for you. A light for your nightstand. Curtains for you, because I know you like it dark. A towel rack for the bathroom. A few other things for you, and a big mirror for the living room wall. I have a list in my Palm.”

She’s always doing stuff like this. I had planned on moving into her apartment and building a life together slowly over the years. Invading someone’s space with all your stuff can be hard on a couple. So I was planning to take it very slow, not make many waves, just act like a visitor for a few weeks. As Wendy even says on her blog, she’s used to living on her own, and has been for years. But, she’s doing a lot of work getting ready for me. Making her space, our space right from the starting line. She’s stocked her shelves with the food I like, made room in the bathroom for all my stuff, cleaned out a huge closet of her clothes and handed it over to me for mine. Made space for my monstrous computer, and now has more stuff to buy in Ikea for me. If you’ve ever moved into another person’s space, you’ll know how great this is.

So we head to Ikea and buy some stuff for me. My own lamp and a bedside table and curtains so when it’s a hundred and ten degrees I can walk around the apartment naked! And a huge mirror! And some cafe con leche! The mirror is too big to truck home on the subway so we have them ship it all the next day.

About that time, hunger kicks in we realize what a long day it’s been. We stagger back home and Wendy makes us up some amazing maple something salmon and we finish up the rest of the spinach.

Eating healthy for the win.

Refreshed, it’s time to break out the Magic decks. Two hours flies by and we get all of two games in. She’s intrigued, but the first two hours of Magic is just learning. We haven’t played for fun yet. We retire to the bedroom for more Grey’s Anatomy and a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep.

Life is good.

Wednesday was pretty tame. Wendy did some work in the morning while I smashed face at Magic. Around lunch (three in the afternoon) we went to the grocery store for supplies and then went to that spicy mussel place. They’re open today and we order a plate of medium hot mussels. Last time I was here, I took one bite and spit it into my napkin. Today, we eat a plate and a half of them. About a dozen each all told. Very very good. They are like spicy heaven, but the last six have to sit on the plate because we’re so full.

We drag our tote of groceries back to the apartment, and just hang out for a while. As it starts to get dark, we go out for a run. This is something neither of us knows if it’s going to work. I like to basically meditate while running. She likes to listen to her I pod. I don’t run as far as her, but I run faster. We’re both used to running alone. I haven’t had a running partner since college.
But, as with everything else, it all works out just fine. I slow my pace a little bit and discover I can go much farther and more endorphins get released. You also lose more weight that way. Easier on the knees too. Better for your body. Better for your mind.

We start out running by the royal palace and its statues in front of it, and across the street in the park. We run further on through plaza de espana and its 50 foot tall statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Then up a seemingly endless hill, and across to another park with an Egyptian temple in it. The temple park is a large circle, perfect for running. Even though dark, there are kids playing, families and old couples strolling along, people walking their dogs and other runners. All the while Wendy is explaining the significance and history of everything around us. Why the temple is here, what’s inside the palace, how old it is, why there is so much French architecture across from the castle and who Don Quixote is. No wait, I knew that last one… BFA in writing for the win!

I tell her my folks are going to gush when we show them all this and listen to how much she knows about every section of the city. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how smart this woman is. I could point to a cobblestone anywhere in the city and she can tell me the life history of the man who put it there and his and its significance in World War II. I can’t even tell you if Spain was in World War II. Wait, Spain was part of the world then, right? And since it’s a “World War” that means everyone was involved, right? But wait, if everyone was involved, how come I don’t remember any of it? Oh well, I’ll ask Wendy. She’ll know.

“Wendy…”
“You weren’t alive yet sweetie.”

Thanks darling. I knew you would know.

See how smart she is?

We get back from our run and Wendy makes us some dinner and we watch UFC 67 on the couch while we eat. We agree it is the most boring, worthless contest of wills we have ever seen. We retire to the bedroom and watch “Dance with me.” Who doesn’t love Vanessa Williams?

Thursday is Wendy’s birthday. We get up rather early for Madrid and get some breakfast around noon. The frenetic pace of Madrid is going to kill me. So much pressure! We have an appointment at two p.m. at Medina Mayrit.

Medina Mayrit is an Arabic bath. For just under seventy Euros, two people get 90 minutes worth of bathing in three different temperature pools, a dry sauna, and a thirty minute massage. And tea. Wendy and I get our instructions and then go to the changing rooms. We meet in the hallway outside, and make our way downstairs to the pools. There is a Vermont spring pool (just above freezing), a lukewarm pool, and a hot pool. There is also tea and water from a spigot, and a sauna.

We start with the lukewarm pool, and it’s wonderful. Then we move to the hot pool, and for some reason we can’t stop smiling. It’s like a hot tub twenty feet across. So much relaxation. Once we’re almost passed out from that, Wendy motions for the cold pool. I assent and we head across the hall.

OMG is it cold. Wendy does her best to sink into it and can’t. I decide I will show her how manly I am and just dunk my head under like its nothing. Fat chance. I sink down to my chest and involuntarily grunt and almost scream. “Whoohrrrerahhhh” I say through gritted teeth.

“What was that?” Wendy asks.

“Nothing dear. Nothing at all. Shall we try the steam room?”

“Good idea.”

The steam room is amazing. A little hot once you get in there, then you just lay back and enjoy the warmth spreading through your body and down to your bones. I sit there and bake. Letting it all wash over me. This wonderful woman. This beautiful city. Bullfighting. Flying. Lying in bed and sipping wine and watching movies and talking until two thirty in the morning most nights. I lean over and whisper in Wendy’s ear –

“Thank you for taking me on all these amazing adventures.”

“I wouldn’t do this alone. Thank you for being with me.”

I start to sing softly in her ear - “If I lay here; if I just lay here. Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

I consider it our song. I’m sure a lot of couples consider it their song. I don’t care. I love it.

We return to the lukewarm pool, and then a woman peaks her head in and asks the numbers on our bracelets. We’re who she is looking for. Time for a massage. We are led upstairs and there are 3 masseuses. Two men and a woman. Wendy gets a guy, I get a guy, and the woman with us gets the woman.

“Uhh, Wendy, can you ask them if it’s not too much trouble to switch us? I really prefer to get rubbed down by a woman.”

C’mon, who can ever forget the George getting a massage from a man scene in Seinfeld? I don’t want to have to think about it moving or not. I have enough stress.

It’s no problem and I get the girl. (I always get the girl.) We have a half an hour massage that is bliss. Then we have fifteen minutes left downstairs and we’re done. We walk home, completely relaxed and smiling.

Wendy tells me “We should bring your folks there.”

“Yeah we should. They will love it.”

We head home and relax for a bit, and then its time for Mojitos and dinner with Wendy’s friends. Birthday dinner for Wendy!

We show up to the bar specializing in mojitos and Dawn is already there, taking notes and working on her plan for this year. She runs a bike touring company and this year is going to branch out into self publishing week and weekend guide books. She’s very excited. We’re going to set her up with Joshie when he comes to visit. We’re soon joined by Kinga, Lena and Stephan, Candy, and Alana. You can see pictures of all of them on Wendy’s website.

Lena and Stephan are wearing a shirt with this picture on it that says “40-1”.

Mojitos are had by all, and then we move down two doors to the restaurant where we’ll be having dinner. A variety of wine is ordered. A variety of food is ordered. Dinner is pretty much insane. There are 8 people at the table and 5 passionate conversations going on at once. The food is delicious and varied. We order two or three plates of food that all have a variety of dishes on them. Grilled vegetables and pineapple. Mushrooms, sausage, quail, bits of steak, chicken and fish with guacamole. Then we follow the White tradition of ordering every dessert on the menu and everyone has a bite and passes it to the left until everyone is sick, or the desserts are gone.

After dinner, a few people take off, and a few of us head to disco, but it’s closed, so we settle for the bar next to it. Alana “President of Democrats Abroad” and I have a passionate discussion on the last 6 years of American politics and who should be president in 2008, Obama or Clinton. I would say debate except for the fact that we agree with each other on everything.

Then it’s back home and some sleep.

Friday was work and recover from Wendy’s birthday dinner.

Saturday was return home.

Frowny face.

As I type this, I have one day of work left. The next week is home, off. The week after that Wendy meets me in Florida for a week on the beach with some of my family. Then we fly back to Madrid together and the next chapter of this amazing adventure begins.

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