One of the most important aspects of moving is exploring your new city. This helps the psyche adjust to the often radically different surroundings, piques interest, and aids in growing self-confidence. This is even more important when moving to a new country. What is there to see? To do? Are the people in the shops friendly? How’s the food? Is it easy to get around? Once a few of these questions have been answered, an expat feels far more comfortable and on better footing in the new county.
Using my Newcomer experiences as a template, I then foist activities on my family as the situation merits. My children, for example, were hyped to use public transportation in Spain. (Somehow, they think they will be allowed to just roam the city). I discouraged it in China because they were not fluent in Mandarin, nor were they old enough. Likewise, buses. Having nearly met my own death several times over in third world taxis, ditto. The Chinese are not known for their driving skills, the majority of drivers having only been driving less than a decade. But Madrid is a different ball game. The Metro is clean, relatively safe, and “user friendly” and the roads smooth, the drivers relatively sane.
Last Saturday I decided it was Family Metro Day. We were going to search for a Mexican restaurant, Barriga Llena, in the Chueca district where I had gone earlier in the week. Like Don Quixote, every family needs a quest. Good Mexican food is our’s. I did not tell my family that the Chueca district was the gay section of town – it did not seem relevant to Mexican food – and besides, it is a far cry from the Castro District in San Francisco of the late 70’s when my own fourteen year old eyes beheld men walking down the streets bare chested wearing chaps over leather pants. We went in the late afternoon to avoid crowds and the restaurant rush hour for optimal success. We even decided to change metro lines in order get the feel for the Metro, getting off at Chueca instead of walking from Alonso Martinez. The restaurant was right around the corner from the Chueca station according to the map. Before leaving home I wrote down the address and phone number of the restaurant; Mr. Understanding slipped the GPS into my purse. Should be easy, right?
Once, when I was nineteen, my parents took us to Boston for Spring Break. As we were wandering around the city one day, a pair of twentysomethings in outlandish attire snickered, “Look at the nuclear family!” That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “nuclear family”. I had no idea what it meant at the time, since we were clearly not radioactive.
So there we were, me and my nuclear family, exiting the Chueca metro station. Our nationality cannot be disguised with sweatshirts tied around waists instead of sweaters around necks, tennis shoes, and jeans. Bickering had been minimal until this point, the transitions on the metro relatively easy. I did not see the name of the street where the restaurant but it must be close, I reasoned, according to the map in my brain. We headed north. After 30 minutes of tromping around, we arrived at the Alonso Martinez station on Genova Street. Directly across from us was a Tony Roma’s. Someone (and I am not going to embarrass them here) said, “Why don’t we just go to Tony Roma’s?”
Someone else complained about being tired, another about being thirsty.
“You have got to be kidding me! That is not the point of this exercise! Settling for Tony Romas is like admitting defeat!” I could feel the air from the windmills of La Mancha beginning to churn but could not give in, reluctant to acknowledge that perhaps I was raising a family of travel wimps. “Let’s just walk back the way we came [imagine here huge groans] or ask someone for help.”
To my horror, Mr. Understanding pulled out the GPS and we started walking south, the signal flickering in and out, the old buildings built so close together impeding transmission. At least the walk was downhill, the day was beautiful, and the architecture gorgeous. I was having a fine time, even though the wind from the windmills was picking up.
Eventually we reached our destination and had a fine Mexican meal with margaritas. Huitlacoche was on the menu, a Mexican corn fungus delicacy I’d totally forgotten about. How could I have forgotten huitlacoche? The Mexican decor was outstanding and made me feel right at home: a painted mural of a typical village, lots of hot pink, and the Virgin Mary mixed in with the profane. Julio the manager, a chilango, told us that if there was anything on the menu that we wanted to eat like sopa de fideos or chicharron de queso, to call ahead and he would have it prepared for us. Next door, at the sister restaurant, La Panza es Primera, they serve tacos al pastor. Julio told us that the metro station was two minutes away, right around the corner.
So it was. We stopped in the plaza, ate ice cream, and people watched.
And it was at this moment that our collective worlds collided. Thing 1 picked up a local magazine, entitled “Shangay”, lying on a stone bench where we were sitting. For reasons that should be evident to the reader, such a magazine does not exist in Shanghai, China. But here it was in Madrid. I have no idea what the name means or if it is actually a pun, but we all thought it very funny.
“I think I’ll just put this under Thing 2’s mattress, but sticking out just a bit, the next time he has a friend over,” Thing 1 said.
“You’ll do no such thing!” I said, shocked and awed by her deviousness, a creativity for teasing that went far beyond my own considerable talents.
“You know, I’ve walked through this plaza before, when I parked the car for our anniversary dinner at Piu di Prima,” said Mr. Understanding.
And just like that, the windmills slowed down. We were orienting ourselves.
Thing 2 shook his head at the gay disco ad of the man clad in a sequined bikini brief at the metro station on the way home but emerged unscathed. I confiscated Shangay and am enjoying thumbing through as part of my local cultural assimilation. Mr. Understanding’s barriga was llena and the girls enjoyed the ride on the metro. It would have been cheaper to drive and park, perhaps, but not nearly as educational. Now we know the way. All we have to do is call Julio and go out the back side of the metro station.
October is housekeeping month. I realize I have gotten a late start. In any event, each post will ask readers a housekeeping question. Since I have not cleaned house in any real, regular sense for fourteen years, I am interested in knowing what is an acceptable level of cleanliness. Please note I have added a new category – “Domesticity”. I am also still putting away stuff from the move and organizing our goods so a routine has not been possible. Routine for me starts in on November 9, the first Monday after my first houseguests, Mood Ring Momma and Leezer, depart after a week of “having the fun” (as a local tour guide said yesterday) in Madrid.
So, today’s question: how often do you sweep your kitchen floor? If your spouse, housekeeper, or child performs this service for you, please indicate.
Vocab: barriga = stomache
llena = full
chilango = person from el Distrito Federal in Mexico (Mexico City)