The Kitchen, an homage to Saint Teresa.
Painting by Marina Abramovic
Part of the Heroinas (Women Heroes) show at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
I worked and lived in Madrid for a good part of the years 1997-2000. When I first went there, the only Spanish I could speak was numbers, uno hasta veinte, Gracias, Buenos Dias and ¡Hasta Luego! None of these with a Madrileño accent.
I worked on a project at Telefónica for a digital TV startup in the Silicon Valley. It was the American company's first project in Europe. They and I had a lot to learn besides the language. What got me through was my natural inclination to take the position of observer, being of the writing persuasion from an early age.
I was in Madrid, and at the Telefónica offices in an office park under construction, for the first two weeks by myself. I sat quietly at my desk in a side office and they forgot that I was there so I was able to watch the way the Spanish behaved with each other. They acted like a big family -- talking openly, kidding and telling jokes on each other. They laughed a lot. Always went out to lunch in groups. Shared things, even computers in those days.
They worked hard. Came in around 9:00 am and left between 7 and 8 pm, with a two hour break for lunch between 2:00 and 4:00. ¡They were on my schedule! I fell into their work pattern. Tried a couple of jokes on the ones who would speak English with me. (Almost everyone had studied English in school, but those who hadn't lived for awhile in an English speaking country were timid about trying to speak it with a stranger.)
Even after the four American engineers arrived, I was often upstairs in meetings with Telefónica or on the phone with the customs office trying to get the equipment released, rather than downstairs in the equipment room with the guys. The Telefónica crew and even the guards and secretaries adopted me, one of the American strangers, as one of their own.
This helped a lot in getting the project done and led to further work in Madrid, finally working with a Spanish company, as part of a Spanish team. And then I worked with a good part of that Spanish team for another year on a project in Germany.
It's been five years since I have had relaxation time in Madrid. This past weekend I took a break from writing work and went to stay at the home of a friend in a suburban area and then spent a couple of days in my old neighborhood, the barrio Salamanca. It was great to live en familia with C, her husband and daughter. Over the four days, I saw eight Madrileños that I knew from before, met at least as many new ones and felt welcomed by the whole city.
One of my favorite Saturday night dates, often a date with myself, was to go to the Cafe Central on the Plaza St Ana to hear jazz. When the show was over there at midnight, there was still time to catch the end of the last set down Calle Huertas at the Cafe Populart. I stopped by last Saturday night to say hello to old friends and hear a little music.
All the way 'round, it was great to be in Madrid, though, as always, the time was too short. There is a direct flight from the Toulouse to Madrid. I'm planning to go back soon.