Tango in Madrid: A Sword Dancer takes on the Big City

I never seem to be fully rested, fed, and prepared when Mr. Murphy and his stupid law decide to come for a call. With the short message, “I’m sorry, i thought i hadnt acepted u! my heads all in a spin. goodluck man!” I went from having a lovely little couch in the center of Madrid, to being stuck in the city with no where to go in the third biggest city in Europe! I had been getting ready to eat some food and collapse into bed, but the change of plans jolted me back into “Travel Brain.” Luckily I knew (a grand total of) one person, Chelsea, a classmate of mine from Bard College, who was living and teaching English in the city. Unluckily, she didn’t have an appartment yet. Luckily she was staying in a nice (read: cheep) hostel and could give me directions. With that weight off my shoulders, I put my backpack and banjo on them and set off to navigate the subways of Madrid yet another time. The hostel was tucked away down a backstreet near Tribunal, just north of Plaza del Sol. I checked into The Living Roof Hostel, which turned out to be an open courtyard surrounded by several stories of rooms. I managed to get a bed on the first floor and had a small world moment. As I made my bed and secured my stuff, I struck up a conversation with two traveling Brits. As I described what I was doing one of them stopped me and said “wait, is that a Watson Fellowship?” I was taken aback, since no one ever knows what that is in other countries. It turned out that they had been in Mongolia a few years ago where they had met a Watson Fellow named Braden Sparks studying music. They were just as surprised as I was to have met two Watson Fellows randomly.

I met up with Chelsea and two Australian girls at a nearby bar and talked over sangria for a few hours while watching the crazy animations playing on the walls before heading back to bed.

The next day a group from the hostel was all going to an open air market in the south center of the city. I wrote for a bit in my journal and then Chelsea and I headed out to join them. While we had the address of the supposed location, in reality it started far before we got there! Hundreds and hundreds of stalls lined the streets, some freestanding, others associated with the shops they stood in front of, and a few vendors selling whistles, whirligigs, and other knickknacks wandering through the streets. While most of the stalls were fairly boring as someone who was not looking to settle down there, I found a great stall of circus props and blacksmith’s puzzles, which kept my attention for a good while. People were selling all sorts of things, but most intriguing was an entire courtyard filled with people trading different sorts of sports cards. Men and women, boys and girls, there were at least 70 or 80 of them clustered in little groups, arguing over trades, comparing books of collections, debating players, and buying, selling and haggling. I guess I had a few baseball cards as a kid, but haven’t thought about it in years, and seeing so many adults arguing with children about trades was surprising! 

We started the sight-seeing portion of our day, first stop: the cathedral. The enormous building was a bizarre collection of architectural styles, and as we wandered through it it seemed that every corner had been designed by a different person. As it turns out, this isn’t far from the truth. Due to a series of issues the building actually took 100 years to complete and in that time several different architects worked on it. We got kicked out after a while, as mass was starting, and we tried to go down into the crypts, but got kicked out of there too. Chelsea had to drop off her bag at her new apartment, so we made our way over to the house where I met her soon to be roommates, including one who was studying dance. After a brief but interesting discussion of spanish dance (I had to turn down the offer of men’s flamenco shoes, too heavy) we grabbed some pizza for lunch at Los Gatos Negros, and I headed back to the hostel. 

That night I decided that it was past time that I get some tango in, so I looked up milongas and found a nice one that I could walk to. I was just “suiting up” when a young South African man walked in and enthusiastically introduced himself as Tommie. We quickly strike up a conversation and I invite him to come check out the milonga. He is game, so we also grab Lucy, one of the Australians I had met the night before and walk to the milonga. As we walk, we share our stories of why we are here. They are both impressed by the whole Watson-Fellowship-Sword-Dance thing, but I think the biggest surprise came from Tommie. When asked he simply said “I am here because my Buddhist friend had a vision from a christian God to go to Spain and start a church. I am helping her.” Wow, that was a new one for me! Apparently that is what he was doing in general, but liked to dance and wanted to learn tango. As we arrived at the address where the milonga was supposed to be held, we were told that it actually was on a street around the corner. Arriving at this address we were confronted with nothing but a bare metal wall and heavily barred grate door. We wandered around confused for a while before we happened to see someone go up to the door, say something, and it slid open. We waited until the next person approached the grate and quickly jumped behind them and got inside. We were met with suspicious looks and a “why are you here?” but I quickly told them I was a dancer and the broke into smiles and welcomed us in. I’m still not sure what that was all about. The milonga was a lot of fun and I got a good deal of dancing in while stopping every few tandas to give mini lessons to Lucy and Tommie. They managed to get some of the basics and Tommie promised to teach us to sookie, a dance from South Africa, the next night.

The milonga being over we headed back towards the hostel, stopping for a while to watch some crazy kids on bikes in Plaza del Sol.Plaza del Sol is cool, not only because of the large statues and crazy performances, but because it is the center of both the city and the entire country. Seriously, if you google how to get to Spain, that’s where it takes you! (Fun Fact: The center of the US is just north of Deering, Kansas. Who knew?) 20 minutes from the hostel we found ourselves talking loudly in English about ten feet behind a tall girl dressed in red. In his usual manner, Tommie went up and asked if she spoke English (one of his only spanish phrases, and a useful one!) It turned out that she spoke perfect English, was Lourraine from France and had been trying to think of an excuse to join in our conversation. She was also a dancer as well as a rather interesting person, and all four of us went and found the last open cafe (it was quite late) where we sat for several hours and talked. We decided that we would meet up and go dancing soon, but that now it was time for sleep. It’s also time for me to sleep, so that is where I will leave you!

Oh! One more thing, I now have stumble upon on the blog, so if you like a post feel free to “stumble it” and share with the internets! Thanks!


About Jeremy Carter-Gordon

My blog of a year studying point-and-hilt sword dancing on a Watson Fellowship. Enjoy reading, tell me your thoughts and leave me a comment, or visit my website at JeremyCarterGordon.com
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