Saturday, 29 May 2010

Weekend fun - promise to self

Over the past few months I've moaned aplenty about my 'working weekends' - the glut of freelance work that's been coming my way since November, and how it's been a blessing but also a total fun-killer. Ok, not a total fun-killer beacuse I've still found time to do stuff like go to my friend Justo's birthday picnic (above photo from this weekend). In any case, this should be my last working weekend for a while, the projects have dried up and I won't be soliciting any more for the moment. I look back and think of all those free and easy weekends I had and how I enjoyed them but also how I wasted time and didn't make the most of them. This is a little list, a little promise to self, of all the things I want to do with my weekends and evenings:
  • finally do that sushi course.
  • make serious introads into my novel.
  • make lovely cakes like I used to (ok, a long time ago) and invite people round to eat them.
  • do more yoga.
  • go for massages.
  • phone people more.
  • run.
  • try out my huge list of downloaded recipes.
  • watch all those films I've been meaning to see.
  • take French classes.
Ok, I'm going back to work for now, but these few seconds of indulgence will hopefully give me the boost I need to finish off that stuff and start doing this stuff!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

What I did in... Marrakech

I hope to make this little list of things to do, eat, see, read, drink etc. a regular on the blog. By no means can I claim it’s a ‘top things to do’ of any given destination, but I can say it’s a list of the things I enjoyed when I was there :-) So, here goes Marrakech...(which was unfortunately cut short by a nasty bout of flu)
Read – The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles – classic beat novel about an American couple who journey to Morocco after World War 2.
Eat – Pastilla at La Maison Arabe. I only ate there, in their wonderful poolside restaurant, but it is also an amazing place to stay or do a Moroccan cooking course. Eating outdoors at the Jma el Fna is a must too, but with over 100 kiosks to choose from I can say that stall 97 is among the better ones.
Buy – Tassled curtain tie backs in every colour under the sun – from the main souk. If I hadn’t got the flu and spent my last day in bed I would have also bought a bright white leather pouffe and a silver lantern.
See – The Majorelle Gardens, get there early to beat the crowds, and when you’ve had your fill of the beautiful gardens go to the café – expensive, though this is a good thing as it keeps the crowds out :-)

The snaps above are all from my Easter trip there.

Boyfriends, book-clubs and brunches

I’m pretty busy these days – work, yoga, freelance writing and more. But I might be about to get busier. When you’re single (fairly recently single) the temptation is to fill up the time with hobbies and social activities. And why not. This is exactly what I’ve been doing, yet I still feel like something’s missing. Uh, a partner? Well, maybe not – at least not for now. What’s dawned on me these past few days is that aside from all the other stuff (affection, shared plans, etc) having a partner usually involves being part of some sort of community, a group of friends perhaps, of which you, as a pair, form a part, but also a close-knit community of 2, and much of that can disintegrate when you part ways. Of course I have my ‘community’, I have great friends, and a loving albeit expatriated family. But when you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s more than that, you have routines and habits. For example, I know I’m likely to see my friends quite a lot this next month, but I’m not sure when or how this will happen due to our various commitments. Whereas when you have a significant other you usually know; ‘Wednesdays we stay in and see a film’, or, ‘we like to lie in on Sundays and go for a late breakfast in xxx’. It’s not that I’m craving a life of dull routine... far from it, but I miss some of that sense of shared short term plans. Anyway, the other night when we were having a (delicious, delicious) curry in Moharaj in Lavapiés the lovely owner told us that on certain days of the week there was a 50% discount – and my friend Kate said ‘well, why not make it a monthly thing...?’ And it got me thinking, that’s what I’m missing – so why not a monthly movie night (my friends Carlos and Justo are huuuge movie buffs and always trying to get me to watch films with them), or what about a book club? Or a weekend pot luck lunch or brunch thing, hosted in a different house every month? Food for thought.

P.s. If anyone is interested in eating at Moharaj, they don’t have a website but they can be found on C/Buenavista Nº 42. The nearest metro stations are Lavapiés and Antón Martín. It’s not fancy but it’s by far the best balti in the barrio and is better than their sister branch on C/Ave Maria. :-)

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Spring fragrance

At times I can be as fickle with my fragrances as I am with my hobbies, I get bored or overwhelmed by them very quickly. But one I've been loving big time since I picked it up in Istanbul at Christmas is L'Occitane's Cherry Blossom (sorry for the city name dropping there, I could have of course bought it in the stores on C/Fuencarral or in Sol ;-)). I only thought to post on it just now as it's so fresh and springlike that I can't stop spritzing it (even around the house before guests come in!) - it's light enough that it's quite hard to over do it - something which I can tend to do with stronger perfumes. Anyway, if you like super-light floral scents that are fresh rather than sickly this is highly recommended.

The joy of planning

The beach hut on Nusa Lembongan - if it's really like this, I'll be seriously happy :-)

There's little I enjoy more than planning a trip. Ok, maybe with the exception of eating bangers and mash or really good sushi. But honestly, I find the planning is almost as fun as the trip itself, and sometimes more. I don't like to organise particular days down to the T, but I do like a solid overall plan with room for change if things go wrong. I even make geeky clothes lists of what to take and what I need to buy before I go, and what I might want to purchase when I get there. I don't think all this planning comes down to a huge fear of improvisation, I see it more as a sort of stretching out of the holiday - every time I sit myself down and check out a new hotel on Trip Advisor it's like a little bit of me is already there :-) All this boils down to me wanting to say that I've planned the bare bones of my Bali trip in August so I can sit back and relax for a bit now until nearer the time. So, let me indulge. Days one and two are in Seminyak, meant to be the upmarket(?) version of its boozy neighbour Kuta on the south coast. A friend (thank god for international friends) has given me the name of a friend there, so I might hang out with him - it's all posey restaurants, chill out lounges and designer knock-offs I'm told - sounds good to me :-) I'm staying in a family B&B for those first couple of nights, then I've left 2 nights unbooked, so I can decide whether to stay put or move on if need be. Probably the latter, not sure what to do but checking out elephants or riding horses is an option. Before the yoga retreat in Ubud, I'd like to do a sunset climb up Mount Butur and around the lake there, so I've found a guide who can take me. Then it's 6 days of yoga, meditation, massage and peeaaacceee. Following that I've booked a couple of nights in a nice beach hut right on the sand, on the tranquil island of Nusa Lembongan - the diving and snorkelling is meant to be good there, so I plan to try both of them out, but not sure as I don't want to do a Padi course just yet?? And that is it. I'm painfully aware of how quickly 2 weeks will go by, but feel very lucky to be going in any case.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Beyond Madrid

I'm ringing the changes - I've changed the blog title from 'My life in Madrid' to Beyond Madrid. It's something that I've been thinking about for a while as the things I like to write about tend to go beyond Madrid in terms of both location and topic. Plus, I felt the old title was a bit misleading - after 8 years here I can't claim that this is some sort of lifestyle guide to the city - my days of nightly bar-hopping are over I'm afraid - age and a mortgage have seen to that ;-) I've also taken a bit of time, half an hour to be exact, to prettify the blog a bit, to make it a bit easier on the eye.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Yoga ho

I'm thinking about cheating on my yoga teacher. In fact, I already have, sort of. She's nice and the studio's so cute but the thing is I find her timetable a bit inflexible as she gives virtually no evening classes. So, when I found out about yoga holistico, and saw that the classes were given by a genuine Hindu monk (is that the right word?) and that they cost a mere 7 euros, yes 7 euros, per class I couldn't help but try it out. So, after a phone conversation with Dada, who was far too charming to be a monk, I went along on Monday for a class. He wasn't there but he had a substitute teacher who was very sweet. I have to admit the 'studio' is a bit tired looking, it's much more rough and ready than my other school, but there was something I liked about it - I felt that the attention was a lot more individualised and that they went into the theory of yoga a bit more. And for 60e a month you can actually do yoga every single day as many times as you like - I like the concept. What's more, every day before yoga is an hour's optional meditation class for which you only have to make a 'small donation', they even sell organic produce and if you give them a ring, you can arrange to go an eat lunch with them. Not sure what to do, I think for the moment I'll keep seeing the both of them and try to enjoy the best of both worlds :-)

And just to say, after a few months of doing it, I am really feeling the benefits of yoga (despite still being ridiculously unflexible) - what I thought would be a mildly fashionable way of getting flexible has turned out to have multiple benefits - my sleep problems are all but gone, I feel really positive, and somehow more 'centred'. I have a long way to go before I'm any good at it, but for now, it's living up to the hype.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Quick drop-in

I've been bad, I haven't blogged for over a week. I've just been so busy lately, burning the candle at both ends, work has been incessant and at the same time I've been unwilling to give up my social life, so I've been catching up with old friends quite a bit too. During the week yoga and other actvities have also been eating up my time. I've been taking photos, brunching, doing workout videos (thank goodness I don't have a neighbour below my flat as I sound like a baby elephant when doing the 'bootcamp workout'), attempting to learn French, getting into opera, and watching films I always meant to see - just saw the Virgin Suicides for example - if you haven't yet, you mightn't want to bother! Anyway, I'm going to go now, or this'll just turn into an inane ramble. Buenas noches

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Madrid shopfronts continued

I have an odd penchant for retro shopfronts. And in Madrid there are so many little stores that haven't changed their frontage since before the end of the dictatorship. It's not just the fonts that are retro though, the window displays can also be, er, intriguing; the granny lingeries stores with 'floating' underwear suspended on transparent fishing wire so that knickers and nighties seemed to be dancing in front of your very eyes; restaurants that display their seafood on ice in a little 'peepview' window - more recently I have started to suspect that those fish might be fake, as it always seems to be the 'same' cod that stares back at you from behind the glass, even on a Sunday when the place is closed for business); shops that sell only potato chips, and actually fill their window spaces to eye level with unbagged chips that nestle greasily against the glass panes. The signage is often pretty cool too. Above is the front of Cafe Santander, and old-school corner cafe in Alonso Martínez (the barrio where I would kill to live). It's one of those landmark places where you arrange to meet friends outside but never enter, because you are under the age of 60 - inside it's pure 1973; aluminium, neon lights and waist-coated waiters. And it looks like I'm not the only one with a thing for old shops. Check out Store Front: the disappearing face of New York by James T. and Karla L. Murray, the next thing I'm going to order on Amazon.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Health insurance, Hindi and Hold ups – the week I went red

Health insurance
I don’t think I’m actually capable of blushing (something to do with a tanned skintone I think), but if I could, I would have spent most of this week resembling a beetroot. In Spain you don’t really get much in terms of benefits at work – well, that’s a lie, meal tickets and share options are quite common, but other perks are quite rare. So when they offered us health insurance, I obviously jumped at the chance. Now in these medical forms they ask you some quite personal information: weight, dress size etc, which I diligently and honestly gave to them. I sent my forms to our human resources department and thought little else of it. That was, until I got an email from our po-faced human resources manager; ‘Nadya, whilst I’m delighted to know that you’re lucky enough to wear a size 38, what we were actually asking for is your height...’ You see, I didn’t realise the Spanish word talla had a double meaning – dress size and height (The more common expression for height is altura). Embarassing. I’m not sure she knows I’m foreign and she probably thought I was some ‘stupid skinny girl’ who didn’t command the language probably. In any case, I was pleased to find out I wasn’t the only one to commit the same mistake!

As some of you may know, I’m off to Bali in the summer and I’m booking myself a place in a Yoga retreat for when I’m out there. I’ve been in email correspondence with the friendly guy called Namaste who runs the courses. And all this while I’ve been like ‘Dear Namaste this, dear Namaste that’, not realising that what I’m in fact saying is ‘Dear greetings/I bow to you, can you please confirm that my room, blablabla...’. It was only when he eventually replied to my upteenth mail, signing off as ‘Namaste, Ari....’ that I put 2 and 2 together.

Hold ups
If you ever have the exciting pleasure of walking into a Spanish education publishing house you might notice that the dress code is pretty casual, people wear jeans (and not just on Fridays) and even directors tend to favour chinos and blazers over suits. I love being able to wear jeans to the office, but occasionally I get the urge to dress up a bit for work. Today was one of those days. I had an Ally McBeal moment and decided a short skirt suit and spiky heels was the way to go. The weather here has suddenly turned cold again, and I’m not a fan of tights for Spring so I fished out a new pair of black hold ups from my drawers. Anyway, I tottered out onto the street and began the 10 minute walk to the bus stop, all the while thinking I looked pretty good. But around 200 metres from my house I realised that either one of my thighs had got drastically thinner or the one of the hold ups had suddenly grown. Yes, one of my hold ups was falling down. And worse still, I live in a neighbourhood where they are doing a lot of building work, so at 8 a.m. the streets are lined with leering builders waiting to start their digging, or rather, waiting for a girl whose stockings are falling down to walk by and make their morning. Try as I did to subtly hoist it up it was impossible – and it seems that as soon as you feel self-conscious, everyone suddenly seems to notice you’re there and stop for a gander. In the end the only way out of it was to just stop, stand as still as possible with my laptop case modestly covering my legs and call a cab to take me back home and change into some sensible tights. When the moody Madrid taxi driver came along he didn’t appreciate a 500 metre fare, so I nervously blurted out ‘mi falda está rota!’ (my skirt’s broken, completely incorrect Spanish of course). Anyway, once I had emerged from my flat and was suitably attired I got him to drive me to my office in the Madrid suburbs (I couldn’t face the builders again). He got his fare and I got my decency, all was ok. Dropping me off, he wished me well, saying he hoped my back would get better soon ‘que te mejore la espalda’. My back?? Turns out he had mistaken my tale of a broken falda (skirt) for a broken espalda (back) – and the way I was hobbling along to try and keep my hosiery up, I can see why he had misunderstood :-)
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