Umm, what’s the word for that?

One of the few things which I actually feel reasonably confident about in Spanish is my vocabulary. Although I make heaps of mistakes conjugating the verbs, I am usually able to remember the words for things, or to at least describe the concept in enough detail that the listener gets what I mean.

But not everything, as I recently discovered…

Late yesterday afternoon, I realised that I had run out of what can euphemistically be described as “feminine hygiene products.” I was meeting a friend at 9p.m., and I didn’t have time to go to the supermarket, so I decided I’d drop in at the chemist down the road.


I had a look on the shelves, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I joined the queue to speak to one of the pharmacists.

It was only when I reached the counter that I realised that I didn’t have a clue how to ask for said items. I had absolutely NO IDEA.


“Umm, I don’t speak much Spanish,” I began, hoping desperately that the pharmacist would say “That’s OK. I speak English.”

But she didn’t.

“I’m, umm, I’m looking for, err, things for women. If you know what I mean,” I continued valiantly.

“No. I don’t understand what you want,” she shook her head.


“You know. Ladies’ things!” I continued, raising my eyebrows. “I don’t know the word.”

“No. What ladies’ things?” the pharmacist answered, looking puzzled.

By this time, I was bright red, and the queue behind me was growing by the second. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I decided to abandon any subtlety. “Blood. Women. Month.” I stuttered.

“Oh! Yes!” she beamed. “I know!” She reached behind the counter, and produced a box of tampons.

“Yes, yes, exactly!” I exclaimed, willing this experience to be over. “And can you tell me, what’s the word for these in Spanish?”


“Tampones” she said.

That was just the icing on the proverbial cake. I had made a complete and utter idiot of myself when I could have used virtually THE SAME WORD the whole time!

Still, I wasn’t the only one having problems. The man next to me was wanting to buy a packet of condoms. These were also stored behind the counter, necessitating another needless conversation with the pharmacist. The unfortunate gentleman was being given the third degree about what size he required, and if he preferred a particular colour, when it was clear that he just wanted to get out of there ASAP!

All I can say is, I have never been more motivated NOT to run out of things again. Although, this being said, I guess I do know the word for next time…

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 3

Today’s Cultural Wednesday was a bit different, as it was a public holiday in Madrid, so I had a whole day off school. Hooray!

But Wednesday being Wednesday, and culture being culture, I was resolved to do something which would expand the mind. On this occasion, I decided to go to the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (or the National Museum of Natural Sciences). Here’s their website. 


I’d never heard of the MNCN until I started my museum hunting mission, but given that it’s reasonably close to my house, and that no one really talks about it much, I figured I’d give it a go.

The museum is located in a beautiful old building, with a park out the front, and you get a great view over the gardens from the main entrance.


I wasn’t too sure what the “natural sciences” involved, as the term seems to be a bit vague, but most of the exhibits seemed to focus on different animal and plant species, and the structure of the earth.

There was a special exhibition on about biodiversity, which was really interesting, although I’ve got to admit, most of the displays in the museum seemed to feature taxidermied (is that a word?) animals, which were a bit (how do I say it?) confronting. I appreciate that the preserved remains may help people to appreciate how evolution works, but I’ve always found it a bit, well, unsavoury, to see the bodies of unfortunate animals displayed in such a way.

Particularly if the taxidermist is not exactly an expert (although mercifully, that wasn´t the case here…).

This being said, I was impressed that they had a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) on display, and there was a large section dedicated to Australian animals. But if you’re not into preserved specimens (even though said specimens have been there since 1940), this museum probably isn’t the best choice for you…

Nonetheless, the dinosaur skeletons and the information about minerals was fantastic. They had some wonderful fake dinosaur bones…


And some really interesting trilobites…


The last section of the museum was dedicated to rocks and minerals, and had some really brilliant tables with different inlays. I liked these a lot, and they were considerably less gruesome than the taxidermied corpses.


So, overall, I would give the MNCN 3 stars out of 5. It’s interesting, and you can learn a lot there. However, unless you are interested in animal corpses, it is unlikely to be particularly pleasant for you, unless you concentrate on the excellent fossil section.

The cable car

Last week, I went on a trip to Casa de Campo, a huge park close to Madrid’s city centre. My aim was to check out the owl refuge there, but unfortunately, the owls were too sick to be seen by visitors. 😦 This was a bit of a shame. However, as I was walking back to the Metro station after my unsuccessful mission, I noticed something interesting overhead…

Was it a bird?

Was it a plane?

Was it Superman?

No, none of the above, but it was a rather cool looking cable car.


I stored this fact away for a rainy day when I was bored and didn’t have anything to do.

And the rainy day (metaphorical, not literal) came around much more quickly than I’d supposed, such that yesterday, I decided that I would treat myself to a ride on said cable car (which goes by the name “Teleférico de Madrid”- here’s the website).


From the ground, the cable car looked like tremendous fun. But as I waited in the queue, I began to have second thoughts. The little cabins didn’t look quite so sturdy up close, and they also appeared to be going surprisingly fast. In addition, it seemed like pretty much everyone else there was with their family or friends, who could give them moral support as their cable car hurtled through the air, whilst I faced the alarming prospect of sitting in the cabin, by myself, and hoping that nothing went wrong.


But before I knew it, I was being helped into my capsule, and, with a whirr of machinery and a lurch forward, I was off.

The cable car was indeed speedy, and I got some great views over the city, river, parkland, and out towards the mountains on my ride. However, I’m not going to deny that it was a little alarming at times, as the cabin swayed in the breeze, and jolted precariously when it passed the stanchions.


Overall, it lasted for about 10 minutes, and then we arrived at Casa de Campo. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there, so I went to the viewing platform, and had the obligatory tourist photo opportunity…


Then I went for a bit of a walk through the park, which was looking particularly autumnal. I got a bit lost on my journey back to the cable car station, but, fortunately, I just needed to look up to find my way.


I felt a bit happier on the return journey, as I knew what to expect, and I had managed to survive the first leg intact. I also realised that it was much less frightening if I looked out into the distance, rather than straight down.

So, overall, I give the cable car the “thumbs up”, although if you suffer from vertigo, I would probably suggest taking the Metro and/or a strong drink instead…

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 2

Today was Wednesday, and, in keeping with my little ritual which I started last week, I decided that I should do something cultural and enlightening.

A while ago, I signed up for a mailing list at an art gallery near me, and on Monday, I received an email, inviting me to an exhibition opening tonight.


To be honest, art gallery exhibition openings are NOT really my thing. For a start, the paintings are always so incredibly expensive that I feel faint just looking at the prices. Secondly, such events seem to attract a particular crowd, who like to “see and be seen,” so to speak. They are not so much interested in the art as being seen to be “culturally knowledgeable.” And I’m not a fan of that kind of person.


But the picture on the email was impressive, I wasn’t familiar with the artist, and I wasn’t doing anything else, so I figured I’d check it out.

Anyway, off I went to the gallery. The paintings were really interesting, in a cubist style, and if I’d had a spare 2000 Euros, then I certainly would have bought one. But, well, times being what they are…


Predictably, I was the only person there by myself, so I ended up standing awkwardly in a corner, feigning absolute fascination with the pictures. I was looking at a still life when a very elderly man appeared beside me. He must have been at least 90 years old.


“What do you think?” he asked me, gesturing at the pictures. “You like them?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied honestly. “The style is different. Sort of cubist. A bit like Picasso, but not.”

“Definitely not Picasso! Picasso is in another league,” he laughed. We spent a few minutes talking about Picasso, and then he said: “And what do you think of this?” He waved dismissively at the assembled crowd. “It’s a bit too much, isn’t it? I don’t like this sort of thing.”

“Me, neither,” I answered. “But, well, I guess it’s opening night.”

“That’s true, but I’d rather be at home,” he said, grimacing.

“Fair enough. It’s not for everyone.” I paused.”I don’t meant to be rude, but why are you here, then?”

“Well, I don’t have much choice,” he smiled.

“We all have a choice. Well, it seems that we do,” I said, hoping that I wasn’t about to get into a free will versus determinism debate in Spanish. It’s bad enough in English! But, thankfully not….

“I agree. We are free. But I’m, well, I mean, I painted these things,” he said, looking a bit embarrassed.

“You’re the ARTIST?!” I exclaimed in horror, thanking my lucky stars that I’d been positive about his work, and wishing that the ground would swallow me up.

“Some people might say that. I guess,” he said. “But I just like to sit and paint, and that’s it. I have my own style. If other people like it, great, but if they don’t, I still enjoy myself. I’m not here for a career. Painting is my hobby. It’s fun for me, and that’s all. I don’t want anything else.”

At this point, the gallery owner came over, and, clearly worried that the artist may be being a bit TOO honest, suggested that he go and meet a “loyal admirer” of his work. The artist raised his eyebrows at me, and, bidding me farewell, thanked me for taking the time to visit the show.

I left shortly after, but the whole evening left me thinking. It was interesting that it was the artist, the guest of honour, the person around whom the whole event revolved, who had taken time to talk to me, and to try and make me feel less alone and more welcome.

fotobiografiaHe had asked me for my opinion in a way which was friendly and open and honest, and he was a lovely person. He knew I couldn’t afford any of the pictures, but he didn’t care. It was enough that I had bothered to go. He, and the bartender, were the only people who had taken the time and the consideration to notice that I was alone and a bit out of place, and to try and make me feel that I fitted in.

I wish that I could say the same for everyone else there, but, unfortunately, I can’t. I think this illustrates perfectly that regardless of all airs and graces and outward shows of refinement, it’s the person’s true heart and character that matters, not whether they wear the most modern or “cool” clothes, or have the most “hip” career, or are the centre of attention or not.