Wednesday, 15 May 2013

And so I'm back

I've been pretty quiet for a while, haven't I? Well, not in real life obviously – that would be practically impossible. But since moving from Spain to the UK in 2010, my blogging efforts were mostly concentrated on Girl Eats Oxford, my waistline-expanding and wallet-emptying attempt to review as many restaurants in England's fairest university city as possible. And while the eating part was enjoyable, I realised that I don't actually enjoy writing about food. Demolishing it, yes, as any family member of mine would attest. But putting fingers to keyboard in order to share my findings with (a small percentage of) the world turned out to be much more of a challenge. And there only so many synonyms for 'tasty'. There's 'delicious' and errr... So, food blogging was fun, but without any technical knowledge of cookery to back my thoughts up, it became a bit tricky.

I much prefer writing about travel and life abroad. But when you're living in your home country and working full time, this is easier said than done.

As of mid-March, I'm back in Madrid. Not so that I can blog about it: emigrating to keep up an on-off hobby would be a bit extreme, and as you may have noticed I'm not quite that dedicated. I came back for a work opportunity that's keeping me nice and busy, but now that I'm back where Tales of a Brit Abroad began, I thought I might start posting again.

This time around, I think there will be fewer travel posts and more of a focus on life in Spain. I know plenty of bloggers are doing 'the expat thing' and doing it well, but adding my dos céntimos into the mix can't hurt. I'm not going to get all 'this is what I did today' on you, I don't flatter myself that anyone (my mother included) is that interested in the minutiae of 24 hours in the life of an ELT editor. But I do want to introduce whoever is reading to a couple of details of my daily life, starting with mi barrio*.

Last time I lived in Madrid, I resided in Canal, a smart area of upper-crust Chamberi in north-west Madrid. Well connected and well heeled, it was a pleasant place to live. I can't really say I spent a lot of time there, though: whenever we wanted to dine out or see something new, my flatmate and I headed for one of the city's more central areas. I didn't have a favourite bar round the corner where I'd pop in for breakfast, or a corner shop where they recognised me (although this was clearly more due to the nature of the staff of not-so-aptly-named 'Friends' than any failing on my part as a customer). Despite that, I still wanted to live in north-west Madrid this time round. But I decided to expand my search up to Cuatro Caminos, an area one estate agent charmingly referred to as 'estropeado'*. I hoped to end up with a little flat within walking distance of work, without the granny-style dark wooden mueble* so characteristic of Spanish rental flats. I didn't expect to end up in the Caribbean.

This is a beautiful view. It isn't my view.

I now live in Bellas Vistas, the area of Tetuán which starts just north of Cuatro Caminos and stretches up towards Francos Rodriguez and west towards the university. Or as El Pais would have it, I live in el pequeño Caribe. That's the Little Caribbean, folks. So called because it's the area of Madrid with the largest Dominican population (5,172 apparently) rather than because of its sandy beaches. Despite the allusion to 'beautiful views' in its name, there's nothing particularly scenic about my barrio. It's a low-rise network of streets filled with flats and – unusually for modern Madrid – houses, plus shops and a scattering of bars and restaurants. Many of these are Dominican-owned, and serve up traditional Caribbean cuisine, which smells mighty tempting as I pass by on my way home from work. It's a real barrio, with local shops and services as well as chains. Friends gossip on street corners, neighbours greet each other in the street. Caribbean element aside, it could be anywhere in Spain. And that's part of what I love about it. I like cities on my own terms: there to be enjoyed, dipped in and out of when you feel the need to be surrounded by culture, shops and crowds. But my little area is removed from the whirl of Madrid's city centre. It's a buzzing, lively little community of its own, and one I hope to be a part of. I've already got used to buying my fruit and veg in local shops; to hearing the strains of bachata from passing cars and the piropos* the Dominican gents call out to me as they chat outside barber shops. I am a little concerned my eyes may be the death of one of these lovely fellas (more on this later), but that's my only concern. If this is as close as I'm going to get to the Caribbean, it's good enough for me.

*My neighbourhood
* Literally, 'broken'
* 'Mueble' is a generic noun for 'furniture', but in this case refers to what my Nanna would have called 'a unit'. One of those giant wooden (and glass, in some cases) constructions that takes up most of a wall, features an assortment of shelves, cupboards and drawers, has space for a TV and a selection of ornaments. 

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