Frigid Madrid

I love when people write me saying they’ve enjoyed taking the journey, too, and are sad to see it end. With that in mind, here is what we all did today.

We were really sad to leave Lisbon last night. House Grandma fed us soup and cake and gave us a big hug. We’ve loved House Grandma ever since the “Who got better English training debate” between her and house guy.

Portuguese House Grandma: “I know American English.”

Portuguese House Guy with British Accent: “I was taught proper English.”

Grandma: “You sound like the QUEEN!”

Guy: “Well… you sound AWFUL.”

We were excited to get on the night train to Madrid, and even more excited because our ticket said window seat, which is nice because we can’t afford the sleeper compartments and window seats let us lean on our snow coats and sleep well.

Except an old man is in our seat. Ugh, we don’t want to fight with the old man. Aisle seat it is.

There is a man, woman and two-year-old child in our coach. The little girls name is Sarah – “Saw-rah.” Sarah, like any child stuck on an overnight train, is miserable and wailing. “Aguaaaaa! Aguaaaaa!”

Everyone is a little annoyed, but what are you going to do, families need to go places too, of course. Except we all hate her mother, who – if Sarah is talking “this” loud – mom is responding harshly “THIS” loud. It would be silent in the compartment but for Sarah’s little whimpers and Mom would loudly and out-of-the-blue snap. Heads would jerk from their almost-slumbers, everyone was annoyed… Mom was terrible.

“Aguuaaaa. Aguuaaaaaa.”


Oh my… I think she wants AGUUUAAAAA.

Mom and Dad got in a fight in the middle of the night, too. Dad’s elbow slammed into my (our) chair, just missing my (our) head as he stormed out the door while we were at a stop.


Anyway, we’re in our aisle seat and we’re sore. Something has taken a toll on us, maybe all the walking and climbing, or just that we’ve been sitting in a chair for six hours, and it is now impossible to get comfortable.

We don’t look at a clock to see what time it is. Our ticket says we arrive at 9:03a.m. We’ll get there.

Sun rises, Sarah is awake, mom is harshly loudly annoying again… We’ll get there. We’ll get there.

We’ve got to be close.


When we pulled into the station, a look at the clock informs us it’s 11:39a.m.

We get to our hostel by 1 after a very musical metro trip. Upon arrival at the first metro stop, doors open and a girl is singing “Fly Me To The Moon” – our favorite! On the next ride, a man has an accordion. He hops off and another woman with a microphone and karaoke machine hops on. She’s singing something serious. Something Spanish. Something sensual.

It was probably about Christmas. What do we know.

The hostel is alright. It’s in a decent location, but it’s not one of the homey hostels full of love and cookies. It’s the generic “Here is your key, lock your valuables, and your room is the one with seven bunk beds, we’ve given you the most basic of sheets and blanket.”

It’s fine. We’re here one night.

We try to sleep, but we need both sleep and food, and without both the headache is going to persist, so we give up on the nap and wander into town.

It is cold in Madrid today. You could see your breath. We realized quickly that we’d have to turn around for more clothes before being able to be out after dark… But first, we found our friend.

August with Dad





December with Strangers






Five more days of this life.

Back at our hostel, we shower (okay, so this just got WEird), and upon arriving back at our dorm room, the door is wide open. Odd, but whatever, nice girls are standing right inside. We walk in and leave it open. As we’re kneeling over to open our safety deposit box, making a slight bit of noise, but whatever it’s not even 6:00p.m., harsh words come from across the room, in Spanish. We look up with our face that says “Hablamos español, pero no bueno.”

A late-twenties early-thirties man laying in his bed gives us the death stare and snaps. Close the door.

Ugh. We don’t like you, Mr. Man.

Venture back out (code for “Get the heck out of that room and away from that guy). It’s still cold, and now it’s raining… Christmas lights in Madrid!

Not the best shots, but the combination of stay dry, hold massive umbrella in massive crowd, adjust exposure/lighting settings and not get pick pocketed was too much.

















And finally, on our way home, we all did something grossly Upstate New Yorker of us… We wanted hot chocolate from the Dunkin’ Donuts next to the hostel.

But to our surprise, this wasn’t your Syracuse Dunkin’ hot chocolate… In Europe, hot chocolate is thick as fudge.


Off to bed, hopefully not getting yelled at by our roommate.



A Different Kind of Writing Day

I taped my metro and Museo del Prado tickets on the same page of my journal, and with thoughts from a friend, ended up with this – written at breakfast on my last day in Barcelona hours after Dad left for the airport. I hope you enjoy. As always, any feedback, comments or ideas you have will be greatly appreciated. Writing better is always the goal.


By Janae DeRusso, August 2011

He created her with bold strokes-
heavy with the brush though the details faint.
He focused on her bright eyes in particular,
as though she’d been made to see rather than be seen.
A modest success, if no tour de force,
she holds her place in the museum,
but she’ll not be a Rembrandt to be remembered.
A face among a thousand frozen others,
her frame rests in one of the hall’s less looked-upon spaces.

Six-o-one. Her palm hits the alarm
and she exhales a sigh as it falls silent.
In the mirror, she paints her face-
she uses awkward hurried strokes-
and focuses on her tired eyes the most.
She’ll run late for work but pines to be seen.
En route to the cubicle, she boards the metro,
among countless hurried faces just another,
and her frame shares another’s personal space.

The sun sets; the crowds board the metro home.
Once more, alone. Her story hangs on the wall,
as much as most people care to know, anyway.
A name, a date, an accomplishment shared.
Seven seconds- the average attention span,
though a few will linger, if only to bide time
before their next meal or to tie their shoes.
A few will ask questions about her to feel important
only to be easily distracted from her all the same.

But the image of her is recalled by one,
as conceivable among a crowd of many.
It’s a captured moment of a longer story past,
and as only time will tell, perhaps future,
as someone beyond the frame of daily routine
and the walls of tempered expectations
uses a photo of her painted face as a bookmark,
saving his spot in the unfinished story
with the intentions of returning one day.

We Can Do The Tango Just For Two

Tonight’s post coming from someone hoping you check out talented friends from upstate New York… Give a listen to Karma’s Army’s latest EP. Everyone loves a tribute to Grandpa… Check out “Hey There Pop.” Listen, download and share if it moves you. If you’ve made it to this blog, I think the writing will.

Somewhere in the last five days, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy became my Spain “getting ready” song. Don’t know if it’s the “dining at the Ritz” line, or that from my iPad and as seen here, I “write my letter, feel much better, use my fancy patter on the telephone.”

But Spain, six days in, let me feel your heart beat (go faster, faster) can you feel my love heat?

Cons of the get ready song is the next track has Dad and I walking down the streets with “I want to break free” as our walking-with-purpose theme song, which we occasionally “break” into.

You know, Spain’s parks do not disappoint. Parque del Retiro is absolutely amazing, with its palaces, rowboats on the lake, statues, green. So green.

Life continues to be a series of very cool things falling in place. As we stand overlooking a garden in the park, a parade of people enter, singing, chanting, playing instruments in what appears to be some sort of demonstration. We notice at the front a huge American flag. And wait, could it be? A second flag, the California State one!

Well, we’re obviously about to be very popular people, I think.

Or we’re about to get sacrificed.

Nope. On the one day in our lives Dad and I will be walking end-to-end through Madrid, it is the last day of the World Youth Celebration, an event held for Christian youth every three years in a different city. This year, this week, Madrid. There were over 1.5 million people from countries all over the world in Madrid for the festivities. All singing songs. All carrying their nation’s flag. All celebrating in every plaza we walk through.

The energy was incredible- I don’t think we could’ve picked a better single day in our lives to be in Madrid.

Life is a Garden. Dig it.

Facing backwards on the train,
Backwards on the train…
Sittin here and gettin puke-y
Moving backwards throughout Spain.

We spent Saturday night getting lost in Madrid and stumbling upon hundreds of bars, restaurants and an energetic, vibrant nightlife. Up and down the streets we went until we ended up far enough away a taxi sounded fantastic. Good call- that ride back made us realize we were faaaar from complimentary-champagne home.

The next morning we went to the Jardín Botánico across from the Museo Nacional del Prado. So much beauty, so many thoughts, so many poem ideas. All that fancy writing will be unloaded here for your viewing/critique soon.

We spent the following three hours in the museum, looking at hundreds of paintings of Dumbledore and his friends, and read story after story. I’d never found myself more interested in a museum than I did Sunday, though Dad and I joked after getting a bit fatigued no more portraits could possibly interest us unless they were of our own faces.

Sunday night- Flamenco Show at Corral de la Moreria, a tablao/restaurante in the 1,000 Places To See Before You Die book. I think that marks my second on the list – my Turkish bathhouse from July 2009 made the cut. Here’s the scene: It’s a small restaurant with a small elevated stage in the back righthand corner. The first table is flush against the stage, we’re at the third table, just three seats and two thin aisles away. Dinner comes first (“ma’am, your dinner comes with a half bottle of wine, would you like red or white?”) and the show follows.

Flamenco dancing. Intense. Passionate. Romantic.

Sweaty. I mean, I’m all for a little bit of shine on a hot guy onstage. How to put this accurately…

The guy every girl in the room is supposed to want to bang?

It’s raining from his face.

His chin, his nostrils.

His nipples and kneecaps.

And when he whips around, spinning on his toes?

Like a child’s sprinkler head in summer.

The best part of all was the young woman next to me, beautiful smile, polite, proper… Stuck in a massive fit of giggles, to the point of tears, throughout the entire performance.

It was a tremendous show. Afterward, around midnight, Dad and I walked over toward the cathedral and palace. Standing in the emptying courtyard between the two landmarks, lit only by old-fashioned street lamps, it was a breathtaking setting.

Just as we began to stand there, in one of the more poetic moments of my life, the plaza was made all the more stunning as a bolt of lightning cut across the sky behind the cathedral, and those that followed lit up the area for the next several minutes.

You can’t plan, or ever recreate, moments like that.

Drunk on life.

Day 4. We return to Sagrada Família to get inside. It’s beautiful, astounding, insanely detailed. For more information, redirect your attention to Wikipedia… We’ll move on.

We had our final coffees at Cafe Zurich, marking four days in a row in one of two similarly placed tables facing the center and the exit of the metro. A perfect place, and surely a future poem subject. Dad and I already had tired laughs on the first day as we tried to artfully describe it and came up with “epicenter of the people.” We’ll go with that.

Get to the train station, I continue this pathetic search for tape. Ive collected my tickets/passes/receipts along the way, all with the idea they’d be taped in my journal and written around. On day 5 now, I still haven’t found it. Anywhere. Got myself trapped in a pharmacy yesterday as the cashier insisted I buy Dr. Scholl’s medical tape. “YES, it’s tape! What you want!” Soon though… The journal already looks well traveled. Because it’s been around town. 

Also because I left a half-eaten chocolate chip granola bar in my purse on a hot day. Come on, Janae.

We took the high-speed train to Madrid and arrived just before eight o’clock.

For someone about to live in hostels for three months, and fairly comfortable anywhere, I’ve been living comfortably these first few days. How you ask?

An hour after checking into the hotel, I’d gotten myself hammered from the complimentary bottle of champagne. Realized this as I slipped on my post shower robe, reached for the glass for another sip, then reached for the towel and realized the towel bar was heated. HOT. 

And giggled my rear off. And made a call to share bottle-of-bubbly giggles with America. Ten minutes later, I’m standing locked out of the room as the metal key the size of my hand spins in the lock (yeah, you have to push and twist).

My standards haven’t changed. I mean, I won’t go anywhere that doesn’t have a bidet and three closets now, but other than that.

Life is good.