Friend of the Guiri Guide, Kathleen Hershner, has lived in Madrid now for nearly 8 years and has experienced living in many barrios. She shares with us attributes of each, with her own personal flare. This segment will have multiple installations in order to provide you with the greatest of detail as you work to select your ideal home.
I tallied up the places I’ve lived (while bored, on a flight back from Menorca), and was surprised to find that I’ve averaged one move per year during my extended ‘visit’. Some have been short-lived and some long enough to feel like a real home. In order:
I snapped up a last-minute 3-month gig to flat-sit for a Chicago kid who wanted to return to Chicago for a chance to train for the upcoming Americas Cup 2006 in Valencia. This flat was next to the Principe Pio station, which at the time was still in the process of its gigantic renovation. The flat was in a modern high-rise, sandwiched between calle Florida and the train tracks of Principe Pio station, with the Parque de Oeste visible on the far slope behind the tracks. The cercanias are quiet and more ‘shooshy’ than anything else and my 6th floor view of the Palacio Real (if you stuck your head out the fake-bay windows and craned it to the right) made it quite posh comparatively to my other nests. The only thing was ‘modern high-rise’ means trying to house-train a puppy while living on the 6th floor with a medium-speed elevator is a little beyond difficult and the portero was alternately amused and unimpressed by my hourly dashes out the door.
The thoroughly modern, self-igniting gas water heating unit (calefaccion?) failed me and Scout the weekend of Christmas which meant cold showers during party season. When the repairman turned up on January 2nd, he showed me a special trick to restore pressure to the unit so the flame wouldn’t flame-out: turn on the hot tap full-bore while lighting the pilot light. The landlady and my Chicago dude were AWOL during this ‘I’m SO hating being a foreigner today’ episode and so, once again, it was time to move.
This flurry of flat moving led me to make the best decision I’ve made so far: to live alone. Scout agreed and we decided on a lovely, quaint but unexpectedly noisy buhardilla in a barrio I never imagined I would live in: Chueca. Now, I’m certainly at home with the gay community, having lived in San Francisco for 12 years before immigrating to Spain, but the only similarities with Chueca’s sister city, the lovely and pristine Castro district in San Francisco, are ‘gay’ and the letter ‘C’. Now, Chueca has cleaned up its act considerably in the past three years, but at the time it was noisy, dirty, ugly and calle Fuencarral had not yet been transformed into a tree-lined pedestrian mall.
It was during this Chueca period that I developed a diverse community of friends. I had a couple-friend with a dog that Scout adored, so that was handy. I got to know many of the shop keepers, two of whom became good friends of mine. I even found a convenient boyfriend in the barrio for awhile, which definitely helped with the breaking-in phase. Oddly, I didn’t really gain many new gay friends, and I found that Chueca wasn’t so ‘gay’ at all – certainly not by San Francisco standards.
My most vivid memory of this time had to do with the flat itself. When I went to meet the two Italian girls living there before me, I was struck by the ‘homeyness’ of the flat – Brits use the words ‘homliness’, which always cracks me up, the terms being quite opposite. Its decor was ‘Trader Vic’ Tiki lounge-style accented with bits of hippie macrame suspending dead plants on ‘ahoy matey’ planks of grey wood attached with hemp rope to the ceiling, and an 8-foot long aquarium functioning as the kitchen counter that was filled with pebbles, shards of pottery and bits of driftwood – it always reminded me of the opening scene of “Titanic”. I liked it.
What I did not like was the fact that the hot water heater (AGAIN, these units tormented me) was mounted OUTSIDE the flat on the roof, accessible through a tiny, square porthole located in the sleeping loft over the kitchen. Whenever the unit malfunctioned, which during one 4-month period was on average 3 times a day, I had to climb up the ladder to the loft, remove the screen and the window itself, and shimmy/skate onto the slate roof raked at about a 45-degree angle to the interior space of the building.
My landlord Antonio had fled Chueca years earlier for the less eclectic/more provincial scene in Cordoba. Convincing him of the urgent need for hot water on a daily basis when his English was worse than my Spanish (hard to fathom) was really draining. After surviving for almost two years there, I left the increased noise on the street and debris in the gutters for the more tranquil, pristine Opera area, which is where I live now, and will live until I leave Madrid. It suits me perfectly.