Walking, Shopping, and Those Plazas

We arrived back in Madrid from the mountains near Cazorla on Friday evening about 8 PM.  Thursday evening’s social activities went late and everyone was dragging on Friday morning….and SO looking forward to the 5+ hour bus ride back to Madrid.  All the evenings at Pueblo Ingles ended later than my normal bed time, which is 10 PM.  Dinner didn’t start until 9 PM (always 2 courses + coffee and dessert) and then we were encouraged to socialize (=meeting in the bar).  My nights normally ended at 12:30 or so and I was never one of the last people to leave.  A few of the group made it until 5 AM on the last Friday morning.  Mind you, most people weren’t drinking that entire time.  It’s different here than in the U.S.  Wine is served each day for both lunch (2 PM) and dinner (9 PM), but people rarely overindulge.

 Two of the regular Pueblo Ingles participants celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary on Thursday evening and it was a group fiesta for the anniversary and our last day as a group.  The couple, Graham and Tana, have a very interesting life.  They live on a boat in the Greece most of the year and travel the world the rest of the time.  They are originally from England.  They have participated in many Pueblo Ingles immersion weeks as a couple.  I enjoyed meeting them and the rest of the Anglos and the Spainards.   There were a few Spanish women near my age and we had a really good time.  I was surprised and pleased at the culture and position change for Spanish women, as compared to my time in Spain in 1986.  One of my new Spanish girlfriends explained that she thought the gap between her generation and her mother’s was much wider than her mother and her grandmother.  From what I saw, it’s very true.  Spanish women have an important place in the business culture and it appears to be very similar to the U.S, with some women choosing to stay at home and raise their children and some choosing (or forced by economic conditions) to work outside the home.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post how impressed I was with the Spaniards’ committment to learning English and only speaking it during the week.  There were very few slips into Spanish that I heard, with the exception of Thursday night, when they all relaxed and reverted to their native language.  Most of the Spanish participants were business professionals sent by their companies and all represented their country well.  Everyone was polite, respectful, and courteous.  I wonder if most Americans would act the same way.

Now to walking and shopping in Madrid —
Thanks to 4 or 5 of my new Spanish girlfriends, I was armed with a handwritten map of the best places to shop in Madrid.  I think I got to every one, except the bookstores.  I did manage to make some purchases, but the U.S. dollar as compared to the Euro is not in our favor.  Also, clothing sizes here are generally smaller than in the U.S., so I’ll just leave it at that.  I had what is now funny experience – falling down the stairs in one of the shops.  I lost my footing on the last couple of marble stairs and tumbled.  The four concerned Spanish women that came to my aid were worried that I smacked my head on the marble.  Fortunately, my landing caused minimal damage – bruised wrist and ankle bone and another cushioned area of my body.  My camera also seemed to survive the fall, as it hit the marble floor.

For those of you not familiar with the structure of Spanish cities (and many in Europe and the rest of the world), most towns and cities are developed around various plazas.  People gather at Spanish plazas, just like they used to do in U.S. squares.  The design creates a wheel and spoke arrangement, with most streets ending or starting at a plaza or acting as a connector street.  This creates some challenges for anyone accustomed to a grid design.  I really like the plaza arrangement, it encourages community and gathering.  However, if you don’t keep track of where you are walking, you end up lost and searching the map for a street or plaza to regain your center.  This was a frequent occurrence today and last Friday, when I got lost walking back to the hotel after a long day travelling.  The root cause of the issue is that I somehow got misoriented with East and West the first day I was in Madrid.  This has caused me to constantly reorient myself.  I think I may have it now.  I walked from 10 AM to 7:30 PM today, with shopping and map stops.

I’m amazed at the sheer number of people out and about in Madrid during the afternoon.  I’m certain my photos won’t properly express it.  People are out walking, talking, shopping, having coffee and cerveza, all afternoon.  As a person of leprechaun-like stature, the combination of people numbers and a culture that is known for a minimal awareness of other people walking, was stimulating and I’m hoping the dodging and weaving increased my aerobic activity for the day.

This week, I discovered that my memories and command of the Spanish language are limited in the area of understanding and non-existent for conversation.  I seem to be unable to construct a simple sentence to order food.  This is somewhat embarrassing, but I’ve managed.  I did have 2 people approach me today with questions and I could only meet their eyes with a very blank look.  I even thought about a few phrases I would use, but my brain was too slow in delivering them to my mouth.  I can only imagine what is was like for the Pueblo Ingles Spaniards to endure and participate in 13+ hours of English each day for 8 days.

I enjoyed my day in Madrid.  When I next return, I will have better language skills.  I’ve heard a rumour that there may be a Pueblo Espanol in the works.

Now that it’s 9:30, I think I’ll start getting back to my normal bed time…

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