Every week I come to La Puerta and sleep here three nights: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Normally, my roommate Sylvia goes home to Úbeda on Wednesday nights for a mid-week visit to her baby and husband, but occasionally, the husband, Jesus, comes here to visit instead. He is a policeman and I guess his schedule is a little irregular, so at times he has a day or two off in a row midweek, and since the baby seems to be permanently interned at the house of its maternal grandmother, they get to spend some (more) alone time here in La Puerta….with me.

Needless to say, after watching several hours of Spanish news and celebrity gossip programming yesterday and today, I abandoned the warmth of our beloved brasero and retired to my quarters, sad to have been deprived of my Wednesday afternoon alone time that I normally spend watching countless hours of nature documentaries on national television channel two. Yesterday while Sylvia was out for a walk/smoke I managed to sneak in an hour or so of British scientists recreating the jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex to determine the cause of death of a triceratops.

Anyways, the point is, I have finally pried myself away from the brasero long enough to write something about the past month for the good ol’ blog. By the way, a brasero is something that I really should describe in detail. Early on, I realized that pretty much every horrendously decorated Spanish living room I had been in had a squarish arrangement of couches/armchairs surrounding a round table, draped in a gross furry blanket, then some kind of old-looking tablecloth, then crowned with a glass top. The table was at a super awkward height so that you cannot comfortably eat or type or write or anything while sitting on one of the aforementioned couches/armchairs. Well, I now love this table, though its proportions are still up for debate. I love it because underneath the ratty layers of blanket-tablecloths is a HEATER! It is actually the only heater that we use in the house and the genius of it is that the nasty blankets hold all the heat in. Now, for a person like me who likes to have their feet up, this is not the ideal arrangement for a personal warming device, but honestly, it is really awesome. Everyday after school I come home and sit there and watch tv, occasionally eat, and maybe fall asleep. Today while sitting there I smelt something burning and I thought it was my shoe (one of the occupational hazards of living in a cold Spanish apartment), but it wasn’t. I still haven’t figured out what was burning, but hopefully Sylvia and Jesus figure that out since they are both out there using it.

So that is a brasero. Now, back to what I was talking about. Me. After all that business with adorable snow falling on Baeza’s flowers and me almost freezing to death along with the foliage, I packed up and headed to Madrid to make my way back to the USA. I stayed in Madrid for a few days to get in some last minute shopping, though I ended up only buying things for myself. I did, however, decide that I love Madrid more than I ever thought. Sure, it’s no Barcelona, and if I had to pick sides I guess I would have to go with BCN, but Madrid is super, super sweet. I stayed with another auxiliar who I had traveled with before, and she lives in the coolest little studio in an exciting neighborhood and it was furnished in brand new things. No brasero, but the thing about houses in Spain that don’t have a brasero is that they don’t need a brasero, if you catch my drift. So we went out and had some drinks, went to El Rastro, etc. etc. etc. One of the places we went to was super awesome. So awesome that I ate chicken covered in cornflakes and fried, served with a side of curry coconut ice cream. And it was three euros. Did I mention I loved Madrid?

Anyways, besides realizing that Madrid isn’t that expensive in comparison to what I spend in Andalucía, and that I actually LOVE churros, contrary to prior belief, I also realized that it was a lot easier to speak Spanish there. First off, I could actually understand what people were saying since they lacked the charming Andaluz accent, and secondly, the fact that I thought I would never see these people again made me less afraid to actually attempt talking to them! I chatted it up with a guy at a shoe store, the Puerto Rican man serving me churros, some guy from Peru, the same Puerto Rican guy serving me churros again two hours later, and I was never even creeped out once. I started thinking that maybe I was an idiot for not putting Madrid down as my first choice…but I will get to that later.

So yeah, Madrid was great. I expertly maneuvered my 50+ pounds of luggage through half of Spain and made it to the airport bright and early, early, early on the morning of December 21st. Walking to the metro station was interesting since I was slipping and sliding through a good four inches of solid snow, but I thought nothing of it. I checked in my bags, did some re-arranging to meet the baggage restrictions, and headed off to security with a tiny little bag and a blanket, ready to sleep my way across the Atlantic.

But that didn’t exactly go the way I had planned.

Within an hour, my flight had been cancelled. I had never had a flight cancelled on me in my life. I had also never wanted to get back home so badly in my life. In pretty much any other case, I would have been ecstatic. But not then. Not at all. I queued up with about 100 other angry Iberia customers to get a new flight. After two hours in line, I had my new flight and took a seat to wait for boarding. Well, after about an hour of that, the gate changed. I got up and took the 27 minute walk/tram ride to the other gate (seriously 27 minutes, they have it mapped out and posted all over the place). After about 45 minutes there, the gate changed again. Annoyed, I made the 27 minute walk back, this time randomly having to go through security and passport check again. When I arrived back at the first gate, the gate had CHANGED AGAIN. I was freaking out at this point as I only had about 30 minutes left. I asked a man what to do and he said to go to the other gate. So I did. Only to have to literally sprint, holding back tears, getting my passport and luggage checked again, and barely making it back to the first gate I was originally at….only to see that the flight apparently did not exist at all. Cancelled? No word of that, but it certainly wasn’t taking off….ever. In total, I had my luggage checked by security four times and my passport stamped three times in Madrid that day. Hope that doesn’t cause any problems later on.

At that point, it was the afternoon. I had gotten to the airport at 7am. I walked back to Iberia to get another ticket or just find out what the heck had happened to my second plane, only to find THE BIGGEST LINE I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. At this point, I made one of several extremely expensive calls to my mother, pleading for help. I waited in line one hour, then two, then five, then eight. My cell phone was long dead by then and I had accidentally checked the charger and my iPod into my luggage in the midst of my re-packing to meet the weight limit. I could not leave the line and it was going on 2am. I consumed five items off the McDonald’s euro menu at once. At about hour nine of waiting in line, the Guardia Civil showed up, prepared to control the crowd for as-of-then unknown reasons. Then Iberia announced that they were closed for the night. After ten hours of waiting, they shut the gates and I was left standing there with no clue what to do. I first laid down on the floor with my (security) blanket, defeated, with hundreds of people screaming around me. I had been up and at the airport for almost 20 hours at that point. Then I made the crazy decision to bust out of line and literally run to the front of the airport, out of security, out of everything. There were hundreds of people there too, but not ONE person from Iberia. We were waiting everywhere, forming lines wherever we thought an Iberia person might eventually pop up. I scrambled into a promising one and sat on the floor. The flimsy little bag I was using to hold my things was ripping at the seams (literally) and I was cradling my laptop like a baby. Four hours later, almost exactly 24 hours after I arrived at the airport, I reached the front of that line. Miraculously, my dear mother had booked me on a flight that was boarding in 30 minutes via telephone, something that took about 15 minutes to do while my 16 hours of waiting in line had accomplished nearly nothing. I sprinted, yet again, through security for the fifth time, got my fourth passport stamp, and arrived at the gate elated to actually see my flight number on the screen, not even caring that it was delayed by an hour. By the way, this was all only for my flight to London.

I fell asleep the moment I sat down and slept through take off and landing. When we arrived in London, I had no idea what time it was due to the fact that every electronic device I had was either dead or locked away in a soft black wheeled upright somewhere in the bowels of a jetplane and I had utterly lost track of everything, including time. I chatted with a man from Texas who had spent some time at the Marine base in Coronado while we rode the shuttle bus to the next terminal. Then I found a clock.

Turns out I missed my flight. I did put in a valiant effort, sprinting, cradling the laptop, being put through the express security line, slipping in my moccasins, but to no avail. That’s when the tears came. Then three more hours waiting in line, though this time I was supplied with much needed “crisps” as they call them and some water that was actually not from an airport bathroom faucet. I was told that the next flight they could get me on was on December 24th. They printed me my ticket and stared at me. I would have to spend two days alone in London with nothing but a British Airways shaving kit and with LITERALLY two cents in my bank account. Did you even know you could have that little money in a bank account without them like kicking you out of the bank or something? I did my best puppy eyes and god bless her, Linda, the most wonderful woman on earth, uttered the magic words: “Let me see what I can do.” She then typed on her little computer with her big long red nails for probably a solid 15 minutes while the American woman next to me embarrassed us all by screaming things at an ancient British BA employee who evidently insinuated that she was not familiar with European weather patterns because she was American, and while her brutish teenage son loudly tattled on the old man to another airline employee. Anyways, Linda saved me. She printed me my ticket and told me I had 15 minutes to get to the gate. I ran. I met another Californian somehow and we ran together. I made it. I got on the plane, and I got home, 43 hours after I had arrived at Barajas.

My dad was waiting for me at LAX. He was actually waiting there for six hours because I had no phone or money and could not call him to tell him I missed the first flight. I collected my bag (singular) and went to report the big one, the one with all of my earthly possessions in it, missing. They told me I would have it in one day!

It was a lie. Ten days later, after discovering that my iPod had been stolen out of my backpack, the bag was “officially” missing. Long story short (not really, sorry to whoever actually reads this), they had put my bag on an American Airlines plane and never bothered to collect it. It had been in L.A. since Christmas Eve and the BA people there were just too lazy to walk over and get it. I ended up driving up there myself and getting it, just in time to wash 50 pounds of clothes, repack them, and haul the bag back to the airport. The bag is still officially “missing.” I am still deciding whether or not to file a claim based on the entire contents of the bag.

So as to not spoil the other posts of the day, I will tell you now of the mishaps that occurred on the way back to Spain. One, my flight from John Wayne had “technical difficulties” resulting in a three hour delay, then a plane change, then me missing the last connecting flight from Texas to New York. I slept in Dallas alone. Then, from New York to Madrid, we had a five hour delay in Frankfurt that caused us to miss the buses back to our respective locales and have to therefore miss an extra day of work. We also had a fun little event where, during landing, the pilot decided there was a little more fog than he liked about .005 seconds before the tires hit the runway, resulting in an extremely steep last-minute ascent and a circle or two around Barajas, my least favorite place on earth. FUN!!!

Needless to say I have no intentions of ever entering an airplane again. Well, we’ll see. At least I got to try poutine in Toronto!!

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