Translation by Seth Insua – Chapter II

by Seth Insua

   First day discovering Madrid.

    Woke to olive-oil-drenched toast. Packed cheese sandwiches and books.

    Forgotten my motivation for exploring alone. What’s the point when you’ve got no-one to point things out to, to appreciate things with?

    Adriana showed me to the bus stop, talked to me in Spanish. Surprisingly cold and I’m in shorts. I smiled but could barely listen, let alone understand. Wondering how to survive the isolation. Thinking about finding some English people…

    (Remind myself that’s not what I’m here for.)

    Planning. Take a walk, wander, see. Sit in the sun, learn more Spanish, read or write maybe.

    Yellow metro, off at Sol. Photographed the statue of Carlos III, the bronze bear climbing tree. Walked east in the direction of the Banco de España (under the watchful gaze of a laughing Kylie Minogue).

    Headed for Plaza de la Independencia. Roads screamed with traffic. Pavements empty like a ghost town.

    Sat and flicked through tour guide in the Parque del Retiro. Shivered. Enjoyed the occasional sniff of sunshine by the boating lake.

    Tried to discover, appreciate. Felt like I was just listing sights. Tick, tick..

 Palacio Real and the Campo del Moro

Palacio Real and the Campo del Moro

    Found the Palacio de Cristal, tree-framed, quiet. Sketched Cecilio Rodriguez’s Rosaleda, four-thousand plants – roses on roses, velvety petals splayed in ruffled bunches. Museo del Prado – but it’s closed on Mondays. Burnt at the Plaza Mayor. Sitting sipping, passing time. Watching the slow crawl of people over the still background of the buildings.

    Palacio Real and the Campo del Moro, the sprawling gardens behind it. Stunning, sparkling, dazzling white, but tourists everywhere, multiplying in the heat like flies. Wandered in the garden, sketched the elaborate fountain. Paid my palace fare and skipped the café and gift shop, heading straight into a vast courtyard. Followed the unguided tour up a staircase for gods, mammoth, frieze on ceiling, rich red carpet. Traipsed from room to room, porcelain, red-and-gold, attended by life-sized gilt lions and ominous-looking guards.

    Jotting all this down on the bus to feel like it’s real, like it’s not just happening inside my head.

    Strange atmosphere back at Adriana’s. I pointed at the things I’d seen in my tour guide. Her look was cold. Tense. I helped tidy the kitchen. She made herself a drink and sat down in front of the TV. The phone rang; she shouted into it. I thought I heard Tito’s name. She slammed the phone down and returned to the TV, face pink. Didn’t look at me.

    Went to my room, unsure what else to do.

    Carlos and Juliana arrived with new faces: Victor and Leon. Four of them took me out for the evening. Sangria in a bar. Football on TV.

    They kept me involved. Fed me tapas. I overreacted to the food, contorted my face into exaggerations of approval or disgust as I tried things. This was conversation.

    (I didn’t realise: Victor, floppy-haired, studying Filología at the university, is Carlos’ boyfriend. He kisses his cheeks, man-handles him; just looked ‘foreign’ to me until later he kissed him on the mouth. I think Leon and Juliana are a couple too.)

    Carlos and Leon look and act alike. Aloof, shy perhaps. Try not to catch my eye. Juliana and Victor are different. They put their arms around my shoulders, steer me, gesticulate madly to me like we can talk through mime. They laugh a lot. If at me, I don’t care. I laugh too. I feel comfortable with them, more comfortable than I thought I could be. Even happy.

    Juliana offered me a cigarette as we walked through the night. Leon pointed down a street, said Putas, guffawed at my slow reaction. Prostitutas.

    Carlos drove us home in his convertible, roof down, break-neck. Clung to the door for dear life, laughing. Juliana turned to me, said something very serious about his driving. Realised she was trying to reassure me. Like he’d been driving for twenty years.

    I wanted to stay with them when they dropped me off. When I got in, Adriana had gone to bed.

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