6/18–Our first full day in Espana! Our sleep schedules are definitely mixed up. After our full day of travel, Thomas went to bed last night at 6 pm and woke up at 5 am. The rest of us were too excited to sleep so we didn’t get to bed until past 1 am and got up at 1 pm! I can’t remember the last time I slept so much. I woke up refreshed and ready to experience Madrid.
The big highlight today was seeing old friends. We had lunch with our friends Paloma and Manu and their three kids. We were supposed to meet at 1 but due to our sleep we didn’t meet them until 3. For them, that is only a slightly late lunch. Lunch here doesn’t begin until 1 at the earliest and is usually the biggest meal of the day. We all had the menu del dia, which consists of a primer (first) plate, a segundo (second) and a postre (dessert). I had a delicious risotto, chicken and watermelon for dessert. And of course we all had a Spanish beer.
Paloma and Manu are just the same. So warm and friendly. I was impressed by their focus. Unlike many Americans I know (including me), they never checked their phones or their schedules but were fully immersed in our conversation. We talked about many things. It seems the economy here is still bad. The unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent. Many families at the private school (where we both had kids enrolled and where we met them) have had to pull their kids out of the school and send them to the public school. Manu and Paloma’s computer software business, which was slowing down four years ago, has not yet picked up. Maybe as a sign of the times, a new mayor was elected in Madrid just last week, and she is on the edge of being a communist.
After a 2-plus hour lunch, we strolled up the street to visit another family who we met through our kids four years ago. They also have three kids. In both cases the kids looked so different but the parents look just the same. We are still jovenes (young), we joked. Although it was 5 in the afternoon the parents were already home from work. Their workday is something Americans would envy. It starts early–at 8 am–but ends by 3. But Javier and Angeles are both government workers; not everyone enjoys this kind of schedule.
As we both have kids nearing or in college, we talked a lot about the costs of college. The costs here are amazingly low. If you attend a public university in your “zone,” it is free. (I think we understood this correctly.) If you attend another public university outside your zone it is about $2,000 a year. The most exclusive private schools are at the most $20,000 a year. We couldn’t help but be jealous as we anticipate sending our son to college in a year at double or triple the cost. Another difference is that most college students here continue to live with their family until after college is over. So their 20-year-old daughter is still living at home.
After a nice visit, we went home to rest for a while and then joined Javier and Angeles and their kids for dinner at 9:30. Summertime dinners are bit magical here as it’s still quite light out at 9 or 10 and it’s always warm enough to sit outside. We ate on the terrace of the local pizzeria and ordered a pizza Spanish-style–with chorizo. Both here and at the lunch place our hosts knew plenty of people passing by. Although we are in a big city, this little neighborhood is like a small town. It’s not fancy and lacks the charm of the old parts of the city (everything here was built in the ’50s and ’60s as the city expanded), but the people are quite down-to-earth and gregarious.
Yesterday we discovered a great surprise–the chairs we bought at the famous Rastro flea market are still in our apartment! The chairs are simple wooden cafe-style chairs covered with colorful maps of Spain and then coated with shellac. We never got organized enough before to figure out a way to ship our chairs back home so we left them in the apartment. Fortunately our exchange family kept them and now we can make an attempt to find out a way to get them home.
Probably one of the biggest changes we’ve noticed from four years ago has to do with technology. At that time people were just starting to use smartphones. Now they are ubiquitous. Here in España, companies charge for texts so everyone uses an app called whatsapp to send texts. In general the same kinds of things are popular here as in the U.S., Facebook and Twitter for adults and Snapchat and Instagram for kids.
Tomorrow our only agenda is sending the chairs, a process that may be quite involved here. Our luck may be that we arrive at the shipping company during siesta time. We may also see some teachers at our kids’ old school and then have dinner with our exchange family. They promise to bring good wine–cheers to la vida española!