“Tonight, can you please take me on a tour of my new barrio?” I ask my friend, Tobi, who has been my unofficial tour guide of all things awesome in Madrid since the second week I moved here.
“Yes,” she promises.
And then, we’re off. It’s early evening (by Spanish standards) and the sun still hangs high above the terra-cotta tiles of the magnificent colored buildings in Lavapies/Embajadero.
I’m fightings the ghosts of Chiang Mai and questioning my existence in Madrid when we head out. I’m numb. Our first stop of the night is La Inquilina, which serves up 1 euro tapas along with their booze. Tobi knows what I’ve been going through since I moved here, and tonight I am fighting past those demons in my mind. Tonight, I promise her, I want to live in the moment. To embrace my new home. And, that’s exactly what we do.
As we sit in the metal chairs, drinks and tapas on the table, I look up. At the towering buildings lining the streets, their lights just flicking on as dusk begins to surface. I look in front of me at the couples, the people walking their dogs, the elderly couples clad in suits holding hands and walking at a snails pace past us.
“This,” I turn to her, “this is what I needed.”
In that moment, sitting in my soon-to-be new barrio, I finally feel my own light flick on. It’s been waiting, dormant for months, but it emerges. It heats me up from within, tickling my fingertips as I hold my wine glass. It whispers in my ear “you are OK. You will be OK. This is life and you have no choice but to take risks, follow your heart and live.”
“Show me where I live,” I ask as we rise from our seats, en route to another destination. “I really want to see what is around me.”
And so we being our journey. Although it isn’t really a journey, more of a gorgeous twilight stroll through Lavapies. Around us, people are settling into their terrace seats, sipping wine and laughing with friends.
Men who line the street selling god-knows-what and hawking restaurants cat call us as we walk past.
“Guappppaaaaa,” they purr.
“Don’t make eye contact,” Tobi instructs. “Then, it’s game over.”
“I’m not, I promise,” I say as I keep my eyes focused straight ahead, on the cobblestone road and onwards towards the skyline of old apartment buildings, and beyond, what looks like a church with its steeple plucked off and removed.
The men still persist, but we’re on a mission.
“That place looks magnificent,” I say, pointing at the church. “I can’t believe this is near my house. What a reminder of history.”
The building, Biblioteca Escuelas Pias, today is home to a library that doesn’t just offer books, but an entirely romantic and gorgeous setting. Here, wood floors and exposed brick walls and arched windows give way to a dramatic library.
“Follow me,” she instructs as we walk in. “We can’t go in the library, but we can go to the roof.”
So, I follow her as we climb never-ending flights of stairs.
All I can do as we work our way up is marvel.
“This. This is beautiful,” I say in a a hushed tone, letting the ghosts of the building and its past settle in me.
We step out onto the roof as the sun finally sets, giving way to a sea of purple and blue as we sit perched above the neighborhood, having another glass of wine.
And then, we’re off. We mean to go straight to my house, but as we walk by Mercado de San Fernando, Tobi says we have to go in.
“I don’t know if anything is open, but let’s take a look,” she says as we enter the nondescript building.
Inside, there is life bursting around us. Tiny stalls are everywhere, selling food, wine, gifts and more. There is a buzz here, a soft murmur of happy.
The two of us park it at her friend’s wine shop, where after we exchange the typical Spanish greeting of quick pecks on both cheeks, we are handed two glasses of wine just because.
I stand there and take in this tiny shop. It’s lined with wine from all over Spain. Next to us, a record player spins old music.
It reminds me a lot of London’s Brixton Market, but entirely inside. And, with little English being spoken. Like Brixton, there is an electricity here that makes me want to see more and reminds me just how damn lucky I am this is in my new barrio.
Then, we’re off to see where I actually live (because it takes time when you’re doing an impromptu bar crawl to actually get to where you want to go). We stand outside my building and it’s quiet. A beautiful, peaceful quiet.
“I am so ready to live here and start my life,” I announce on that mid-April evening.
Our night continues, but what matters to me is that I am awake. I am out of my brain, out of my struggles and feeling incredibly grateful for my present and my future.
It’s exactly what I needed.