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Madrid Homestay: Two Madrileños and a Montón of Hospitality

I’m fairly sure there’s an ancient Spanish saying that reads, “It’s not the size of the house that matters, but the size of the hearts of the house’s occupants.” Wordy saying? Yes. Applicable to my Spanish homestay? Absolutely.

The first time I met Juan, my Madrilenian dad, he was wearing a leather jacket, polo shirt, sweatpants, and sandals. He possesses the quintessential dad-body, resembling a muscular bear, emanating love and commanding respect. He speaks in a low baritone and is a punctual Spaniard, which I am discovering is a rare breed in Madrid. Juan is comfortable enough in his masculinity to own a tiny white poodle, Yocky. Yocky is 15 years old, arthritic, and barely holding on to life. He speaks fluent Spanish, and has only peed once on my bed. Fortunately, I have Spain’s best host mom, Paloma, who has a special Spanish lavender laundry detergent that is heavenly. Standing at 5 foot 3, the amount of love and care Paloma provides is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep she gets. Rising every morning at 5:30 AM, she prepares a wonderful breakfast spread, packs me a lunch for school, and then works for the day for the local newspaper. At 3 PM she returns to make a hearty lunch, then walks 45 minutes to the gym for her yoga and Pilates, and after a 9 PM dinner crashes with her favorite reality TV show at the El Hormiguero, which translates as the Ant Hill.

Paloma, Juan, and their charming, quaint flat have been a safe haven for me during my time adjusting in a foreign, bustling city. After 35 years of marriage, their companionship is best represented in the way that Juan walks 45 minutes to meet Paloma after her physical therapy, so the pair can enjoy each other’s presence walking back to the house together. Or when Paloma falls asleep during her show and is snoring on the couch after a long day, Juan, after laughing about her snoring, carries her gently into the bedroom. Juan then returns to his chair, and yells at the dog in incomprehensible Spanish as the dog distracts him from his favorite part of the show. When I can understand Juan’s heated dog-abusing Spanish is when I know I’ve hit the big time. Only once have I seen Juan and Paloma have a disagreement: they argued for over 15 minutes about the most efficient way to get me to the airport. The combination of my stellar Spanish listening and the paper-thin walls allowed me to understand every word of their argument. It amazes me that two people who have been driving around Madrid for over 50 years still can disagree on driving routes. Then again, there is something innate in us, regardless of our culture, which causes us to get heated in our opinions regarding the best route to a certain destination.

 Our cozy living room before dinner, with Paloma in the top left of the frame.

Sharing meals with Juan and Paloma has been by far the best aspect of my time in the homestay. The value they place on quality time over the dinner table is unparalleled. I use my Spanish, enjoy authentic cuisine, stay updated on Real Madrid’s most recent match, and embrace the presence of two Madrileños. I am thankful to have a window into their simple, yet beautiful life, and I know even after I leave I will always have a home in Madrid.
 Paloma, Juan, me, my room mate Evan and our French friend Pierre enjoying a meal.

Danny Pasternak is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in Madrid, Spain. He is currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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