La Notion du Temps

One of my favorite things about travelling and exploring new countries has always been learning about different cultures, different ways of life, different ways to look at this world that we all share. After living in France for almost six years I had begun to expect a certain way of doing things, a certain time for daily activities, which had subconsciously become the “norm”- the way things should be done…and then I arrived in Madrid.

For anyone who has been to Spain, even for a short time, the unique and unmistakably visible Spanish concept of time is everywhere. What seems to be simply “off-schedule” to some is to others another rhythm of life and something I have quickly learned in my first two weeks. So when my first weekend in the city rolled around and I “had” three different places to be in three different parts of the city I was excited to see how the evening would turn out, knowing ahead of time that there were no established rules to dictate when it was too “late” to do something.

I met Leticia and Emilio at the metro near where they used to live in Madrid until the left the city a month ago. What a thrill to see a friend whom I had worked with in Valenciennes four years ago and hadn’t seen since. Trying to be brave and seeing as we were in the capital of Spain I agreed we should speak in Spanish (Castellano) despite the fact that French would have been much easier. After all, I was here to work on improving my language skills in every aspect. The hour flew by and reminded me of our “cafés filles” in France…great company, great conversation…this time complete with an iced chai with soy milk. I was off to my next activity knowing that we would see each other soon, as Segovia is only an hour away, and I still had another four and a half months at least.

Invited by coworkers to see my “boss” perform with his band would be an opportunity to get to know people in a different context. While in the metro I learned that no one else was going but decided to try to go anyway seeing as I was already “en route”. I arrived to find Pablo waiting by the metro and soon found out that he didn’t know where the park was either. After almost an hour of searching and asking we ended up getting something to eat and I once again found myself enjoying different bocadillos, some with Spanish ham and some with goat cheese and tomatoes. We missed the concert but I was able to get to know one of my coworkers a bit to learn his story, hear about how long he had been in Spain, etc. and thanks to my newly adapted conception of “time” I relished every moment, not having to worry about how or when I would meet up with the next group of friends.

It was still early in the evening, around ten o’clock, when I headed towards the center to find Selwa and Max. Walking from Sol to what had become a favorite meeting place, the Plaza Santa Ana, I could hardly control my excitement. I hadn’t seen Selwa since the end of classes and was happy to be able to share a few of her layover hours in Madrid…early Sunday morning she was off to Brazil. I found them sitting at a table outside near the theater and it was beginning to seem completely “normal” to find lost friends in the middle of this crazy, vibrant city. With no preconceived notions of what was to come, I sat down completely free and open to the limitless possibilities that an evening in Madrid can offer.

We were soon joined by Yolanda and Ruben, a couple that works to encourage cultural diversity essentially by promoting Moroccan music in Spain ( if you’re interested), and then by the rain which forced us to change locations. A cerverceria, with lots of napkins on the floor and a self-serve style, became our next stop on the way. After some tapas and a call from another friend Selwa was to meet, we headed to the Zanzibar ( where as it turns out one of Yolanda and Ruben’s friends was going to be performing. We ended up at a lively, colorful little bar with a small room for live music in a previously unexplored (at least for me) part of Madrid.

The orange walls, African sculptures, and dim lighting created an inviting atmosphere and we were a few of the first people to arrive for the concert that would begin at midnight. The reality of the situation…it was supposed to start at midnight and people had yet to arrive…funny to think this is the time events tend to end in other places of the world. The small back room filled up gradually and the smoky atmosphere was soon home to groupies and new comers like us. The lively lead singer made me think of Bob Dylan in his younger years with curly hair sticking out from under his hat, his harmonica and guitar an essential part of the performance. The energy and dynamics of the group was easily transmitted to the crowd, with people laughing at jokes (I didn’t understand them all), singing along to the newly learned lyrics, and dancing to the infectiously joyful music of “Entre Coche y Anden” (

After a couple of hours talking with Sebastien, a Colombian friend of Selwa’s who had invited us to his apartment, Max and I began our walk back to the north at around 5am. The amount of people on the streets was amazing…and to think for a second it crossed my mind that we would have the streets to ourselves. Groups of friends walking back from parties or going to others and couples walking romantically hand in hand, all with smiles on their face, whether from the alcohol or sheer contentment I don’t know, but the atmosphere was uplifting and created the impression that they were truly enjoying every moment. This different rhythm, different way of life was contagious and while I don’t know if it will become “my own” there is always something to be appreciated when surrounded by people who realize the importance of each moment and aren’t afraid to share it with others.


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