01.06.21 — Journal

Plenty of Pampering

At the end of my last post, I speculated whether I’d be able to travel around a little bit this summer now that Spain is lifting restrictions after the central government deactivated the state of emergency a couple of weeks ago. Well, it would seem that my prayers have been answered, as I start writing this blog post sat at a desk in a lovely hotel room in Bilbao, where the grey clouds have finally parted and it looks like we’re going to be treated to a day of sun.

Stories from my current trip up to the north of Spain will, however, have to wait until the next blog post, as we’ve some catching up to do — or should I say I do, as I’ve had my blog somewhat abandoned for the last few weeks…

We pick things up after my week of little birthday celebrations, and another week at work which was punctuated by some lovely evenings with friends. One evening I met up with Sara and Jhosef at a lovely little terrace near my house, where we were treated to a generous selection of tapas before ordering two huge plates of delicious grub to share — calamares (calamari rings) and huevos rotos con jamón (chips with cured ham and fried eggs).

Another evening brought with it another birthday celebration, this time for Hugo. For this, four of us headed to an Italian restaurant that I knew Hugo was a fan of, and tucked into some delicious courses (including a dessert that came recommended by a colleague) in between lots of laughs and some particularly lovely white wine. 

I’ve always been a big fan of prawns with spicy tomato sauce.

With my belly full of a rich and spicy tomato and prawn pasta, I hopped on one of the city bikes to head back home, passing by some of the places that I had first gawked at when I first stepped foot in Madrid all the way back in 2015. I passed by the Instituto Cervantes, the Banco de España (Spain’s national bank), Cibeles, and the southern train station, Atocha. Upon arriving home, I set the lights to a relaxing purple colour combination and unwinded for the evening with a book.

I mention the book because I’ve recently gotten back into reading in a big way, having finished three books in the past couple of weeks. Without wanting to turn this post into a book review (I used to hate having to write those in primary school), I’ll quickly detail the experience as I think they are three very interesting pieces:

The first took the form of a novel I received through the post as part of an anonymous book exchange I participated in on Instagram. I’d done this on a whim, doubting that much would come of it, but I actually received two novels in the end! The first of these was this one, Los renglones torcidos De Dios by Torcuato Luca de Tena. As you can tell by the title, this was a Spanish novel, and represented the first time that I’d ever read a full novel in my second language. It wasn’t an easy read, both because of the need for constant pauses to look up unfamiliar flowery terminology and because of the subject matter: life inside an old psychiatric hospital. The hauntingly beautiful title, which translates roughly as “God’s twisted lines of text”, is a great window into the contents of the novel, for which Luca de Tena himself feigned mental illness in order to live an unfiltered, first-hand experience within a psychiatric hospital. This exposure shines through in Luca de Tena’s ability to captivate and maintain dramatic suspense until the very last page. Unfortunately there’s no English version, but I’d highly recommend it to any hispanohablantes out there.

The second book took the form of a biography. I’m not usually too fond of biographical works, but I made an exception here after watching a short documentary on YouTube on the life of this extraordinary woman. The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein documents the turbulent and often heart-wrenchingly sad life of Sandra Pankhurst. The book explores — with often blurry or incomplete details thanks to Pankhurt’s possibly trauma-induced amnesia — her early years as a mistreated adopted child, her subsequent transition to a woman, and then her eventual role as the founder of a company dedicated to trauma cleaning. Trauma cleaning, for those in the dark, involves cleaning up places where trauma has occurred, such as the scenes of a murder, suicide, or the homes of hoarders. Although this book again details with a subject matter which makes for little easy reading, it was refreshing to learn about something which is often readily overlooked by society and the compassion —born surely of an ability to empathise due to her personal experience of trauma— with which Pankhurst handles each client and case.

Lastly we have the third book, and this time we find ourselves dealing with an equally obscure but much more light-hearted topic: grammar and punctuation. Written by an ex-proofreader from The New Yorker, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris was a lovely light-hearted deep dive into the use of language and the punctuation with which we pepper our sentences in a manner which — as Norris would probably attest to — is often rather slapdash. I was seduced into picking up this gem of a book by the “Comma Queen” part of its title, as I’m often lauded by friends as being quite the fusspot with the use of commas. Needless to say, Norris didn’t disappoint, delving into the mechanisms of the English language (albeit in American English, which I’m not a huge fan of) in a light-hearted yet often very informative manner.

I’m now on another book, but I shall conclude this little book-club-esque section for now for fear of boring any of you who may not be interested. If you are, however, be sure to let me know. Maybe it could become something I write more about on here.

Anyway, let’s get back to more mischief from Madrid. Just one day after our evening out for Hugo’s birthday, I found myself cycling down to Luis’ flat with an unopened bottle of vermouth for some drinks and nibbles with him and a couple of friends. Sitting on his lovely private terrace, the four of us shared anecdotes and laughs over some delicious plates of jamón (cured ham) and cecina (cured beef), all before a quick dance to burn off some of the alcohol which was flowing freely.

Just 48 hours later and I was back with Luis again, this time taking the metro up to the north of the city and to Sunday Service, an event organised by my colleague Blanca to launch her line of custom handmade jewellery. The inauguration of Tony Blanco Jewelry took place in a photography studio, where we enjoyed pizza and beers and caught up with both old friends and new, as well as having the change to have our photo taken or bag ourselves a new tattoo – both of which I passed on for now.

After Sunday Service, me and Luis were joined by my colleague Maria for a couple more cheeky drinks and a spot of lunch in the city centre. After being joined by a couple more of Luis’ friends, Maria headed off and the rest of us sauntered down to Chueca, where we continued our afternoon of drinks with some gin and tonics.

This afternoon of drinks would have been all fun and games if it weren’t — as eagle-eyed readers amongst you will have already deduced from the name of the Tony Blanco event — on a Sunday. The shenanigans left me with a heavy head on Monday morning, but that had cleared up by the evening, when I dragged Jhosef out for a bike ride up through a green corridor in the north-west of the city.

Grabbing two of the motor-assisted BiciMad city bikes, the two of us followed the western length of Río Manzaneres, the river that runs through Madrid. This led us to a spot that I’d discovered by myself a while back, where we stopped for a moment before heading further onward, eventually arriving at a bridge which spans the main northern motorway out of the city. Here we stopped for a while, taking in the views of the city and the sunset over to the west, before turning back for home.

At home I had a random nostalgia trip and craving for — of all things — a hot chocolate from Costa Coffee. Although Costa may not be the height of the UK’s culinary offerings, I set about whipping myself up a concoction from pure cocoa powder, milk, sugar, squirty cream (which probably has a technical name but I’ve always called it that), and a sprinkling of cinnamon powder. Between my hot chocolate, the mood lighting that I’ve wired my flat up with, and a face mask kit from Lush, I had myself quite the evening of pampering.

Last weekend saw me continue with this theme of pampering, as me and Bogar headed back to Hammam after we’d last gone just before the pandemic erupted here in Spain. We returned to these Arab-style baths to take a dip in the thermal pools, sweat out our woes in the steam room, and have our stresses rubbed away during a relaxing massage. Once we’d been thoroughly revived, we cycled back to our neighbourhood, where we stopped at our favourite local bar for a delicious meal. Never was there a more perfect way to end a weekend!

All this brings us to just last week, which passed by relatively quickly, thanks to the combination of a few busy days in the office with the knowledge that I had a four-day weekend ahead to travel up to Bilbao in northern Spain with Jhosef. As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m still here in the hotel as I write this, although I’m sure I won’t muster up the energy to edit and upload the photos until I’m back in Madrid.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the two days I’ve got left here in this lovely city, and you just know that I’ll be back as soon as possible with some stories from the trip and a generous smattering of photos that I’ve taken around this quirky place. Until then!