Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let's Get it On

Sometimes I wonder what life would look like if I could live a song. Or the idea of a song. Listening to Rod Stewart make something new out of a Cole Porter song, the piano light, the horns insistent, I wonder why my hair isn't set in rollers or why my nails are chipped. And where the hell are my silk stockings?

I can understand why losing an iPod is akin to losing a limb. Once you've set your life to a soundtrack it's hard to go back to the mundane. With Marvin Gaye in my head the street comes alive. Like the opening scene of a musical, energy illuminates the mailbox and the streetlights with 1970's sunbeams, the whole world suddenly pieced together, every character with a role and a purpose.

Is there a way to do that without a pair of headphones? I want to think so. I want to feel like a Gershwin introduction or a Strokes song without having it piped in. To be just as imaginative without an electronic prompt. Maybe what music does is open me up enough to see the world in a different light and to do so without a crutch takes time to learn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Before the metro closes

We were sitting at the back of the cafe playing Spanish Scategories, the table littered with half empty coffees, fickle ball point pens, and two broken plastic hourglasses.
Letter "s":

1. Bocadillos
2. Personas de ficcion

After the hourglass stopped halfway, we let 30 or so seconds go by before we offered our answers. Within each category, you name things that begin with the letter that was rolled. Answers could be in either language, with 2 points for every Spanish word versus 1 point for every English answer.

1. Bocadillos: "Salmon and cream cheese" "Sweet chicken curry"
2. Personas de obras de ficcion: "Scout" "Superman" "Sacajawea"
"Wait, Sacajawea was a real person," Leah objected.
Marisa raised her hand, her mouth in a set line "We don't know that," she said seriously, ready to protect her answer to gain a point.
The table exploded with laughter.

I'm always amazed at how strong the overall feeling of a night or a day or a moment can be. Walking out of Cafe Manuela to catch the last train before the metro closed for the night, we wandered down middle of the street making plans for tomorrow, tripping over each other, laughing.

It's hard not to feel nostalgic about leaving, though to feel anticipatory nostalgia is an odd experience. What used to be a name I told people to pin down my location, Madrid is now a switchboard in my head, lighting up with details of afternoons, favorite streets, and misadventures. Flying towards Madrid on September 6 I had no idea what to expect from the city, nor where it was located, nor what it looked like. I had flown out of London on a morning already cold enough to see my breath hang in the air. Flying over Great Britain the trees and green spread out endlessly, lulling me to sleep. When I woke up 2 hours later the landscape was stretched taut and brown for miles below the double-paned fiberglass window, and I couldn't find the city.

I had seen pictures of el Parque del Buen Retiro, Gran Via, and other main thoroughfares in the guide books I had perused, but they all gave off the same glossy, static sensation. In the cab, making painfully slow and grammatically strictured conversation with the taxista, hundreds of people I knew nothing about flew past the window.

"We're at Cafe Manuela," Kate told me over the general din.
"Wait, is that Margaret?" I heard Jen's voice ask.
"Yeah," Kate said.
"Tell her it's on the street we got lost on last night," Jen's muffled voice said.
"Okay, so it's-"
"On the street we got last on last night. Cool! Thanks Kate, I'll probably be there in about 15 minutes," I said.

Getting off the metro I wasn't quite sure where I was headed, but crossing the street some of the construction looked familiar, and suddenly it was as if someone had taken a giant highlighter and marked my turns. I knew exactly which way to go, slowing my walk down in my certainty.
Cafe Manuela's giant red doors and opaque windows stared dolefully at the street, sounds of Scategories leaking onto the sidewalk.

Friday, December 7, 2007

7 Day Forecast

It looks like snow. Though the air doesn't smell like it's keeping any secrets.

Smelling snow is one of those Farmer's Almanac, Lake Wobegone-esque skills that my father has. He'll stand on the back porch in his nightshirt, a mug of coffee in his hand, and ease the pangs of an old frostbite from his free hand by curling it into and out of a fist. A few steps towards the border of the slate squares and he turns his nose towards the now barren hay field.

"It smells like snow," he says as he steps back inside, his feet making soft noises on the linoleum floor.

When I was little that's what I thought the smell of snow was: the still air curled up in the fibers of his winter flannels, a vague acccent of almond shaving soap and coffee. It wasn't until I was older and became his winter walk partner that the scent of a storm became distinctive.

Walking is one of those activities that has a mountain of identities to choose from. It can wear spandex and power its way through streets wearing a determined face. Or it strolls down the thoroughfares around 7 or 8, as Madrid's streets become crowded with people who "ir pisando huevos" literally, walk as if they were stepping on eggs. In English this would imply a certain hesitancy to broach a contentious subject, but since Madrilenos aren't afraid to do that, it means they walk slowly. Gambol, might be a better word. They walk, looking intently at shop windows and each other, talking.

My dad always carries his socks in his hand when he comes downstairs, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs to put his shoes on. "Want to go for a walk, Meggy?" he asks me. As a general rule, we stop for coffee on the way, listening to local radio. Sometimes we don't talk until we get to the creek, pulling into the gravel parking lot that slopes down towards the water. But walking encourages talking; something about moving steadily creates a foundation that words spring easily from, an active meditation.

Standing next to the water, watching it roil against fallen tree branches, ducks navigating the rocks, we pull our hoods over our heads and look at the leaden, gray sky. "It smells like snow," I say to him. He rocks back on his heels and breathes in. "You're right," he says, "it does."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Afternoon brainstorm

"Hay que acceptar todo lo que hay en tu vida. La vida es la unica cosa que tenemos"
Accept everything in your life. Life is all we have.

At first, this sounded to me like pointless rhetoric, something a self-help book would have plastered across its title page, and then continue to harp on throughout its entirety. "Accept everything in your life" smacked of apathy to me, and it didn't sit well. What's the point of living, I thought, if I don't even take control of my own life? If I don't try to affect my surroundings? There is nothing to be had in resigning myself to all that is. When the John Mayer song "Waiting on the world to change," first saw airtime on the radio, I nearly crashed the car making incensed hand motions.

It's not that we don't care,
we just know that the fight ain't fair
so we keep on waiting,
waiting on the world to change

Fair is an ambiguous creature if ever I've met one. I learned shortly after turning six that "life isn't fair," after staking the fair flag smack dab in the contentious no-man's-land of a sibling tussle. It brought things to a screeching halt. I'd been taught what fair meant, and suddenly my balloon had popped. Sadly, what my mother said is true: life isn't fair, and therefore, neither is any fight. Which means that if John continues to wait for the other man to clean up his fisticuffs, he'll be waiting for a very long time.

I was feeling very righteous about all of this. My grassroots supporting, cause supporting, hipster music listening, self. In essence, the accepted profile of a moderately cool, 20 year old liberal with hopes of changing the world. And then a whisp of a thought took me by surprise. It could be, said the brain, that in order to do anything, you have to first recognize the situation. Could the silly mantra be instead a logical first step? Righteousness reared its freshly combed head. I beat it back with a handful of dirt to the face.

In order to solve an equation, you have to first analyze the problem. Peering at it, prodding it, looking for loop holes. Once you've taken it all in, accepted it for what it is, you're free to solve it.

The weak light wavering over my head burst its bulb, leaving a flair of new thought hanging in its place.
Step one: accept (recognize) things for what they are.
Step two: (And this is when decision and action start) Fight or let lie.

Dear Mommy,

Of all the sage advice that you've given me, these two have manifested themselves recently.
1. Sleeping on a regular basis bestows ability to think like some ancient fairy godmother,
2. even though life isn't fair.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Showing up is half the battle

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get started. Homework, for example, requires a wind-up that may or may not include several cups of tea, making a list of things to do, agonizing over said list, and/or a half an hour spent cruising uselessly around my email account. It is just at that point when I'm panicking about the crush of work, that my room needs to be cleaned and letters should be written. Then, just as I've talked myself in to starting the laundry, I realize what I'm doing, and force myself to study.

But the same thing happens with going out, as well, or making what I cynically term "life decisions". There I am, ensconced in my little nest of contentment, feeling only mildly bothered by the decision at hand. Whether to wear a dress or jeans or both, whether I should study French or Arabic next term, or whether I should go to graduate school. "A cup of tea would be lovely," I find myself thinking, stalling. "No! Now, put on your shoes and walk to the metro."

"Should I go out?" I wonder, standing in my underwear looking at my shoes. "I should probably do some homework. The grammar final is coming up soon."
"Then again, if I don't go out I'll feel like I'm wasting my time."
"But is going out a waste of my time? Shouldn't I be applying for scholarships of something?" "I'm sure I'll have a good time once I get there."

And that's generally the rule. The moment I act, I feel immediately better, as if I had been riding a bicycle at a snail's pace and had finally let my legs pick back up to full speed. And suddenly, I'm in a bar somewhere with friends, or running down the street laughing, and I forget how I ever doubted it.

Agua de Valencia

Madrid at night feels like a Discovery Channel special: the action shots in which cars and people flow through the streets like a human liquid, and you can imagine it from an aerial view, the intersections bright with stoplights and storefronts, the idea of the individual swallowed by the pure mass of bodies and steel. El Corte Ingles, the Spanish department store, squats like a giant commercial hen over three or four city blocks, its bank of store front windows illuminating the sidewalk with flourescent light. Leah and I had been striding along discussing how best to buy all the groceries and get to dinner on time when I got stuck behind an older woman with a cane and a crowd of men in suits. I watched Leah's back moving surely through the crowd, arms swinging, blonde hair lit by window displays, looking more like a general on parade than a crunchy granola in a soft shell mountain jacket. She turned her head quickly, locating me as I laughed and dodged coats. Without breaking stride she put one finger in the air like a tour guide, looked back again and yelled over her shoulder "Are you with me?" I laughed so hard I doubled up as I jogged to rejoin her.

I felt more sanguine about the idea of feeding and entertaining 15 people once we'd bought all of the groceries. Better, that is, until we had to carry it all home, the 6 kilos of flour, 8 loaves of bread, three chickens, a small tree of celery, and other sundry items, necessitating short recovery breaks on the walk home. The only thing we were missing was Crisco, an ingredient it turns out that only an Amerian would use. It wasn't until Thursday morning that Leah called me from The American Store (it's actual name), to announce that not only had she found canned pumpkin, but had also managed to procure a tub of Crisco, that wonderful, familiar blue tub of hydrogenated fat. "It's small, so I'll have mix it with butter to make the crusts."

I was showered but not yet dressed, wearing an old pinstripe Oxford shirt my brother discarded, sitting on a Hello Kitty stepstool, the trashcan in front of me, peeling 3 kg of potatoes. When the buzzer sounded, I slid down the hallway in my socks; "Hola," I said into the phone, expecting to hear Leah and Steve, but instead heard the sound of empty air on the other side of the intercom, confusion setting in as then the doorbell rang. "It's Andy," said a voice from the other side of the door. I slid to open it, the momentum carrying me past the door as I yanked it. I must have look bewildered; as Andy stood there in his work clothes holding a bottle of wine, his face just as surprised as mine.
"Are you alone?" he asked. "Weren't Leah and Steve supposed to be here at five?"
"Yes, but I'm assuming Leah's five pies took longer than expected."
"Oh, wow. Well, let's open this bottle. What can I do?"

Somehow, in my inaguaral run as Thanksgiving chef, I managed to produce three tender, perfectly done chickens. Three hours ahead of time. My roommate Alice and I stood looking at the oven door, the three pullets slumped in their juices, the stuffing spilling into the pan.
"Do you have a beach towel?" She asked me.
"Yes, why?"
"My mom takes the turkey out, covers it with tin foil, and then wraps it in a beach towel to keep it warm."
"Does it work?"
"Oh yeah," she nodded emphatically.
"But for three and a half hours?"
"No," she admitted, "for maybe an hour before we eat."
We both started laughing. "I wish we could make the oven hot without heating them up and drying them out!" Alice mourned.
"Me too. Well, leave them in a warm oven?" I ventured, staring at them.
"Yeah. And besides, if the chicken isn't hot, everything around it will be."

Steve looked like he belonged in the Beatles: skinny tie, suit, and freshly shaved after a month of growing out a beard, he stood with Leah, each carrying two pies. The whirlwind began in earnest, as Steve and I moved the furniture, Leah began mixing a vat of Sangria, and Andy moved brusquely about the kitchen in his apron, adding more curry to the sweet potato wedges. Friends started arriving, and the house filled with the merry sound of mingling, trips to the porch for sangria, and music. "We're going for more wine," Marisa informed me, "and bread," added Kate, as they buttoned their jackets.

The table was loaded down, the pot of soup nearly lost behind six bottles of wine, stuffing, mashed potatoes, bread, sweet potatoes and chicken. There were so many of us that "buffet style" desolved into "take some of what's in front of you."
"Oh! I almost forgot," I said, and dashed to the kitchen.
"WHERE DID YOU GET THAT?" Neil asked me, cradling the bowl of cranberry sauce in both hands, starting off the giving of thanks with a homage to the the stuff.

We all sat in a circle saying what we were thankful for, in Spanish, plates of food balanced precariously on our laps, and glasses of wine sitting on the floor.
"Doy gracias por mis amgios y esta experiencia."
"Yo doy gracias por mi salud y esta cena."
"Y yo, doy gracias para la juventud--"
"Y que la juventud no sea gastado en los jovenes!" Marisa added joyfully, waving a fork.
"What?" We asked.
"And that the youth not be wasted on the young, it's Shakespeare, right? He says that youth is wasted on the young, so I give thanks for youth NOT being wasted on the young."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Checking Out the Center-fold

The walled city of Toledo in the Castilla la Mancha region of Spain never once changed hands as the result of battle or war. Rather, control of the city was ceded through negotiations or peace accords, even during the city's re-conquisition in 1492. It is an amazing claim for any powerful city to make, let alone a city that was the shared home of Christians, Muslims and Jews during a period known as the "Convivencia," or coexistence, a period that lasted from 711 to 1492. Although each group lived separated from the others and the idea of intermarriage was unthinkable, the three religions afforded each other mutual respect and space in which to exercise their beliefs.

"The question though is not so much 'who is he.' That doesn't really matter. He is human, I am human. Why can't we just treat each other as humans?" -Marc Schutzbank.

In an age where religious radicalism gives rise to violence and mutual mistrust, the history of Toledo seems an impossible utopia. Have we become so blind to others' humanity that we insist that other people believe what we believe? That they adhere to the same creed we do?

European architecture is a constant reminder that co-existence is not just possible, but advisable, and even enriching.

In Naples the foundation of a Roman ampitheatre forms the basement of a row of apartment buildings.
In Rome, the Colosseum sits at the apex of three major roads, a magnificent reminder to the commuters roaring past of man's capabilities.

One of the two surviving synagogues in Toledo, the Sinagoga del Transito, was built by Muslim workers who decorated the ornate wooden ceiling with Arabic and Hebrew characters, their own contribution to a foreign devotion.

And although Ferdinand and Isabella attempted to eradicate mudejar decoration from El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, the monastery they commissioned after their victory against Portugal, they didn't quite succeed, as the cloisters are rich with apex windows, carved with traditional designs.

I address world peace the way I tend address recycling: the result of a better world is something everyone can work towards, but also something I leave to the next guy, to governments, to grass roots organizations. The reality of peace may be a folly. But to integrate my own corner of the world is worth doing. No need to make grand gestures or bake every one of my neighbors a pie. To accept someone's belief structure and to question my own is a good start.

I'm trying to keep the Toledo Cathedral's security guard in mind: surrounded by mudejar carving in the most important of Catholic Spain's cathedrals, he sat reading an Ikea catalogue.

Muslim and Christian, traditional and modern. Co-existence has deep roots.

Let's make like the stones and groove.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Little Shop of Wonders

"Hey. That smells really good." Evie said, throwing her bag near the pantry and putting her hands on her hips.
"Thanks, I hope it tastes the same, I'm starving."
Our galley kitchen is long and narrow; it is possible to stir fry, wash dishes, and rummage through the refrigerator from one point on its slick linoleum floor. But soft lights bounce off of our short supply of honey-colored wooden counter space, and if you prop a laptop on the microwave, music runs laps around the high ceiling.
"Guess what," my roommate said, looking amazed.
"What?" I asked, poking at my vegetables, growing brighter and more tantalizing.
"I just got my nipple pierced!" She laughed at herself and subconsciously put her hand over her boob. "It's the worst pain I've ever experienced in my life."
"Holy shit! That's awesome! Do you like it? Does it look good?"I asked, wielding a spatula.
"Wait, I'll show you."
She unzipped her sweatshirt and pulled down one side of her plain brown bra. "What do you think?"
A short metal bar, a ball on either end, sat flat against her chest, gleaming, neatly bookending her nipple. "I don't know what I expected: a ring or a larger bar, but that looks so cool," I said.
"Yeah," she said fondly, pulling her shirt back into place "I think it looks great too. And the place was really clean and the guy was really professional and stuff, just like you said."

The piercing place, two doors down from the closest Catholic elementary school, doesn't have a name. Instead, uderneath its dusty red awning it advertises its services by placing photos of all its piercings and tattoos, all taken just after completion, in the shop's six windows.

I like getting pierced. It sounds primal, and somewhat objectionable, but I like the idea of adorning my body in a decisive and yet less permanent way than a tatoo. It is the visible evidence of having made a decision that I still stand by. If I didn't, I'd remove the metal. It also doesn't hurt that my piercings speed up and or confound the first impressions process.

"When I first met you---I don't know, I think you come off as, like, this good girl, who is very kind and nice---and then I saw the bar in your ear and I thought it was cool, cause it didn't seem to fit."

When I tried to relocate the shop on a Saturday in October, it had disappeared. I walked up and down the familiar section of Calle Fernando el Catolico, hypothesizing that it had changed its awning or its location, leaving a friendly "We've Moved" sign that would direct me where to go. I finally found it, one block up from where I remembered it. They'd added a few new photos to their repetoire: a tatoo gleaming on already swelling skin, a bolt through the back of the neck, and a bar at the base of the male abdomen, just enough muscle recognition to hint at what was below the frame.

"Hola, que tal?" The man asked me, turning down the volume on Dr. Dre.
"Me gustaria conseguir un piercing."
"Vale. Donde?"
"La nariz."

It was early Saturday, only noon, so with one hand in his gelled hair, the kid behind the counter had to ask the "piercing artist" to come to work ahead of schedule. Minutes later, he strutted through the door in jeans still stiff with newness, and went to prepare the back room, trailing the scent of cologne and cigarettes behind him.

"He was really nice, and he talked to me in English. And there was this girl from Finland who's working here as a nanny. And she didn't speak any Spanish until she met her boyfriend and she got her belly-button done while he got his tongue done. It was so cute," Evie recounted, slamming rice and chicken fillets onto the counter. "This is fun," she said, pouring oil into a pan "And now that I'm cooking my nipple doesn't even hurt."

There's something about cradling a new piercing that reminds me of the new-haircut feeling. An acute sense of where your body is in space is heightened by the thrill and surprise you feel when you encounter yourself unexpectedly in the mirror. How you'd envisioned yourself is suddenly divulged to the world at large, a more accurate manifestation of your sense of self staring defiantly back at you. Piercings are often more hidden than the effects of a haircut, but they have the same effect on the psyche.
"I had no idea you were so bad-ass," Evie said.

It grows on you.

The 16 and the 61

The end of our street opens up onto the main avenue, making our walk to the bus stop an anxious journey. The closer we come to the intersection, the more likely it is that we'll see the bus rolling towards the stop, all of us breaking into a sprint, our coats flying behind us.

Depending on what time it is, we stand in the middle of the bus, holding onto seat backs and each other to stay upright, taking the corners at 60 km/hr. It is a rare day that isn't sunny, light flooding the bus and making it difficult to look at the streets without sunglasses, or getting a pastoral sense of reality.

The first circle takes us past the fountain, water shimmering and cascading as motos and cars make hairpin turns around it. Following the flow of traffic we barely fit through the crosswalk, women pulling wheeled grocery bags, men with the day's bread rolled in the newspaper. We stop at the bakery to pick up more passengers, the employees occasionally looking out at their reflections in the bus window.

Down past the elementary school on the right, a fruteria, the school on the left, the cultural center, a fruteria, a bazaar, the Chamberi market, the butcher's stall visible from the street, a new Mediterranean restaurant, and then the Mexican bookstore that heralds our arrival at Moncloa. Everyone gets off the bus, the doors hissing open. We stream towards the metro station, merging with another tide of people crossing the street and running for their trains in a manner reminiscent of a synchronized swimming number. We dart past the women selling colored socks, the men handing out the Metro paper, and bear right towards Parque del Oeste, the lawns filled with municipal workers sweeping up shards of wine bottles from the night before.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Las Carboneras

It was an efficient noise. Holding up her skirt, the sound travelled easily through the noise of bar glasses and house music: a rapid toe strike lightninged to the sole, moving her foot backward, finishing in a slide that hung lazily in the air.

Somehow, there were three beats to it. Her friends watched her foot and tried to recreate it. Tac, tac. Tac, tac.

Slower, the effort showed through the careful professionalism of fresh stage make-up and crisp dresses.

Tac, tac. Tac-tac. They laughed and asked her to show them again.

The start was so fast that the foot looked detached from her body. Three beats. Three beats. The sound and the form consistent, unhesitating. The other two held their skirts in their hands, eyes trained on her foot, their own beginning to mimic its motions, when the house lights began to fade and all three let their smiles and hems drop, lined up, and walked purposefully to the small center stage.

The crowd watched intently as the shapes of two microphones, three full dresses, two guitars, and one man in a light suit grouped themselves in two rows. For several minutes the darkness continued, the waiting silence growing louder and louder. Just as the anticipation reached a restless tension the stage lights grew large and burned the dancers into view, the dark dissolving into the shadows of the dancers and suit jackets of the guitarists.

Flamenco, for all of its color and fury, begins slowly, sad chords walking along the frets and trickling to the ground, the dancer dipping a toe into the puddles the sound makes.

The two guitarists huddled together on the stage's right hand wing, watching each other as much as the dancer, who walked purposefully to center, her face torn with emotion. The words of the song leapt over the gutiars' melody, and the sound of her shoes snapping the stage grew louder and louder. There was a switch from minor to major, and she began to move faster, swirling in circles, her feet beating out a complicated rhythm, arms reaching for the air and for attention. Jumping up she slapped her thighs on the way back down, head dipping down and then rising, her body still in its curve, switching her hips back and forth. The song ended, and in the silence, she started to clap her own rhythm, her two friends catching on and taking it up, yelling their approval, motioning to the guitarists to pick it up too. Everyone on stage settled in to watch, entranced, while she moved from subtle to extraordinary, turning in circles that didn't seem in time to the music, leaping just in time to catch the beat, drawing her arm across her stomach and leaving it on her hip as though to ask "Can you feel it? Look at me- aren't I captivating? Have you had enough? More? Can you follow me?"

The rhythm reached an uncomfortable pace, too fast to follow how the dance joined it, sweat dancing along her forehead- she picked up her skirt to show her feet, moving so fast they jolted her along in tiny steps. She raised her arms, her hands working through the air, feet still moving and spun into her chair, pulling her arms inward over her head, her face calm, her chest heaving.

The bar exploded in applause as the lights softened out, leaving the old singer in the back row smiling at the dancer, and raising his two hands in approval.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cacao Sampaka

Imagine the conversation:
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I dream of being a bombonera."
(Bombonera-Person in charge of creating and making chocolates) It is one of the options that isn't bandied about in college brochures, but should have seen some proliferation with the release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as the candy man can do what other mortals can't.

Cacao Sampaka, an artesanal chocolate factory, is located in Barcelona, where its small factory produces the delicacies pedaled in its branch locations: Madrid, Berlin, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, and Valencia. The company commands the process from bean to palate, and aims to "create a whole new language of forms and flavors," limiting itself to only one medium.

I sat back in my chair and took a small nibble. The dark chocolate crumbled chalkily in my mouth and onto my tongue, where it stayed, trying to decide whether to be smooth or bitter. Once the shell dissolved against my palate, the strong taste of salt came through as I bubbled my tongue in an attempt to discern the flavor. Ham? Soy sauce?

Another nibble. The same dominance of salt over chocolate, and the sensation of something cured triumphed. It tasted like the legs of ham in bars smell--dense and organic, and somewhat sickening.

"Your chocolate was a mix of anchovy and vinegar." Anchovy. I like trying to imagine the bombonera who braved the possible chagrin of his colleagues to suggest, in a brainstorming session, that the company try something different. Something new. Something untried. And, crossing and re-crossing his legs, managed to spit out what he'd been thinking.
"Fish. I think we should mix fish and chocolate and see what happens."

Making artesanal chocolates appears to be not unlike working as a WXPN dj (a public radio station that doesn't earn its means from commercial investors, but instead from listeners, lowering the popular pressure to play certain genres). Sometimes the selections are challenging, resulting in an almost irrepressible desire to lunge for the dial and end the death throes of that particular cat. But you stick around, learning to enjoy the music for what it is, instead of berating it for what it isn't. And other times, what is played is selected to be outrageous, in the hopes of having something to talk about.

We finished savoring our chocolates, using new vocabulary words to describe various subtleties and tones. With new sounds connected to ideas like smooth, bitter, sour, without salt, the chocolates took on new dimensions, exploding like cap guns on both senses and language.
Rosana, brandishing a chocolate, reminded us "These aren't meant to be eaten one after another. You can eat one or two of these with a cup of coffee, or a good glass of wine. They're for tasting."

For savoring.

Disco never died

There is a small enclave in Madrid where neon lives and strobe is still king. One of the last surviving pockets of disco-fabulous, it isn't where I expected to find it. As all of the dance clubs huddle under the heading of "discoteca" I thought that I would find roller skates and John Travolta in a side alley somewhere near a shag carpet emporium. But instead, el Gimnasio Arguelles can claim endangered status.

He is not especially tall, nor especially buff. I wouldn't have pegged him as the gym employee type. Perhaps a marathoner, or a soy protein addict, but my favorite instructor is just that-- a knowledgeable gym rat, an indispensable fixture who infamous for his music choices.

I was chatting with my roommate as I sauntered to a spot on the studio floor and started to unfurl my mat. As the far left corner made contact with the ground, an older woman slammed her water bottle into the space about to be occupied, effectively claiming the spot as her's. I started laughing, the water bottle suddenly looking very much like its owner, stolid and unmoving as it guarded the floor. After a moment the woman laughed and moved her bottle, shrugging good naturedly. I understood. The stairs outside the studio had filled steadily for ten minutes before the class started; when the step class let out and the door opened, it was akin to watching cockroaches scuttle away from light, everyone rushing to find a place.

Towards the end of his total body fitness class, as the hour winds down and the stretching begins, so does the exodus. Women grab their mats and their water bottles and jog towards the door.
"That's rude," I thought, pulling my leg towards my chest, imitating the way he sunk into his stretch like a ballerina, the motion smooth and controlled. I understood the rush, however, when I found every bike in the spinning room occupied, with him at the helm.

He rolled through the door with very little effort, his curly, platinum blonde highlighted head unaffected by the smooth forward progress of his hips and feet.
"He shaves his legs," Alice leaned towards me from her stationary bike.
I cocked an eyebrow.
"No, I'm serious. Check it out."
It's true. His black and neon yellow spandex unitard only reaches the middle of his calves, allowing me to confirm that he does, indeed, take a razor to his gams.

"Vamos!" He swings into the saddle, his bike on a platform in the center of the room. As he puts in the first CD, he sings to himself and unzips the front of his shirt.
We pedal.
The lights go out.
And the strobe light rages.

"He does this thing with his shoulders," Alice said, mimicking a "Night at the Roxbury" move, and snapping her fingers. "Oooh. Just you wait."

His legs circle perfectly in time with the music, a certain bounce on the hips at every second downbeat, lowering his shoulders in a roll, and then rising to a shake. To change positions on the bike he whistles, just one sharp, piercing blast, signalling that we should move our hands from second to third. I'm sweating profusely, trying to sync my legs with the tempo and with his dance moves. He beckons the class coquettishly with two fingers, grinning wickedly as he sinks lower and lower into his handlebars, then shoots back up, clapping his hands above his head.

To the lingering tones of the "Hey Mickey" remix, I peeled myself off the bike and used my shirt to wipe my face. I caught his wink on the way out, as he mouthed the words and turned off the strobe.