Moving in Madrid

I have a new home. That makes 25 in 35 years.

Moving days

On September 1, 2017, like so many September Firsts before it, I moved. Not from one US city to another, but from NYC to Madrid. As of today, I have been in Spain for exactly a year and a half. Of the 13 cities I have called home in my life, I have lived in Madrid the third longest amount of time.

At home in Madrid

I came to Madrid to teach English; rather, I used teaching English as an excuse to come to Madrid. Upon arriving, I joined with friends to finagle our way into a flat on Calle de Alcalá, a historical street that bisects the city, cutting a diagonal line through Madrid’s center. That four-bedroom flat was imbued with unassuming charm and the Madrileño aesthetic of a generation that had known life under Franco.

I technically lived in that flat for about nine months, enough time for one roommate to be replaced by another and the group to settle into individuals routine. While I lived there, most of my income came from online English tutoring, a workable if not consistent (or consistently enjoyable) endeavor. 

Though I’ve given up teaching online, for a few hours a week, I still teach/tutor English to working adults and a couple preteen boys. The majority of my income, though, comes from a variety of freelance editing/writing gigs. Freelancing is both the worst and most OK way to work. It’s the definition of sufficient.

My 18 months in Madrid have been good – okay to great depending on the day. Early on, though, it become clear that my new life was just another version of the lives I had lived in all the other cities I had passed through. I worked, I drank, I wandered, I met people, I washed, I rinsed, I repeated. Okay to great, usually somewhere in between.

But, in March of last year, I met Helen.


Helen and I GlowHelen celebrated her tenth anniversary in Madrid back in January. For almost every day of those ten years, she has lived in various flats in Malasaña, a rapidly evolving neighborhood that in roughly a generation has turned from an at-times dangerous barrio to one of the hippest (and most expensive) places to live. Yes, your city guide recommended it.

Helen moved here from a town in the north of England not far from Liverpool. Before moving to Spain, she studied optometry and had lived in various cities across the UK. She has now lived away from her birth country long enough to have developed excellent Spanish-language skills, but she still starts most every day with a cup of tea and will always prefer English bacon over American bacon. No, she doesn’t want to talk about Brexit.

For over nine years (before we met), she made a life for herself. She taught English at schools and in corporations, before becoming involved in a TEFL academy. She’s built a network of friends here, both Spaniards and expats from the UK or elsewhere. She has a favorite Indian restaurant, a favorite terrace, and even a favorite apartment building (not one she’s lived in).

Ripple Flat.jpg

Wine and Whiskey

Helen and I matched on Tinder and arranged a date for a Thursday in early March of 2018. Then, as so often happens, she had to cancel due to work issues and reschedule for the following night. I agreed to the change, but I was dubious.

I hadn’t been on a date in well over a year, yet I knew, last-minute cancellations were almost always a sign that a date was never going to happen – for one reason or another. I was thus pleasantly surprised when I spotted her approaching on the street that Friday night. I had been preparing myself to be stood up.

My original idea for a stylish cocktail bar in Conde Duque floundered when the compact bar was packed. She suggested another spot a few blocks away and we wound up sitting in a brightly lit bar against a mirrored wall drinking wine (her) and whiskey (me).

Our conversation covered topics both common and less so, as first dates do. We went through the big three: Home, Family, and Why Did You End Up Here? Lulls in conversation were rare. At one point, when I inelegantly tried to explain the tone of my novel by referencing the incredibly niche book/TV series, The Leftovers, she not only knew the reference, she said she had enjoyed the show. A good sign.

Dates and Appendicitis 

When, the following Friday, she invited me to meet her for drinks with her cousin and her best friend, I probably should have been freaked out – this was only our third date – but I didn’t think twice. If I had to choose between being grilled by (friendly) inquisitors or not seeing Helen, it was an easy choice.

I don’t suppose either one of us expected or even hoped there would be such a quick, thorough connection. It wasn’t based simply on similar tastes; in fact, despite having The Leftovers in common, we actually shared few pop culture points of reference. Rather, we aligned in more conceptual ways. For instance, when it came to our senses of humor, we never had to feel each other out. 

We share a pugnacious investment in politics that’s tempered, somewhat, by our mutual senses of irony and pragmatism. Her reaction to the Brexit vote had been remarkably similar to my reaction to Trump’s election, even down to the celebration-turned-drunken-commiseration that we had on the nights of our respective votes. From afar, we follow the ongoing turmoil of our home countries, some days with more interest than others.

The world is a disquieting place – more often than not these days – but life goes on.

Helen above Madrid

And then, on the evening of what would have been our sixth date (give or take an extended weekend), Helen had to cancel once again. This time, she told me she was headed to the hospital because of stomach pain. She was sure it was no big deal. She might even be able to still meet up with me, she said by text. When the process was taking longer than expected, she wrote:

Well the doctors are all panicking over appendicitis but my guess is it’s something less dramatic

That was a bad guess.

She went in for surgery the next morning. That same evening, I was flying out to Portugal for eight days, so I was desperate to see her that afternoon. After my persistent badgering via texts, she agreed to let me stop by. A couple of her friends who were already at the hospital rushed to throw some makeup on her before I got there, unnecessarily.

I texted her every day from Lisbon and Porto. Meanwhile, with a few more days stuck in the hospital, she read my novel. The first night after I returned, I went to see Helen the first opportunity I could. It turned out, her mother, who had come to help out during the recovery period, was there too. The three of us spent the evening together. Again, maybe a reason to be freaked out, but I wasn’t.

I knew by how I felt the moment I saw Helen again that we weren’t just dating.

A Relationship

In part because of her lack of mobility post-surgery, and in part because we just wanted to spend as much time together as possible, by the end of April, I was practically living with her. By the end of May, I was. In the first week of June, we submitted my empadronamiento with Helen’s Malasaña address to make it official.

This was the first relationship I had been in almost a decade that had staying power. If I’m being honest, it is probably the first relationship I’ve ever been in where circumstances – either within or beyond my control – aren’t precluding it from continuing. Later this year, we’ll file for pareja de hecho (de facto couple).

In almost a year together, we’ve had our ups and downs. We have fights, we sometimes struggle to communicate our perspectives to each other. But even in the arguments, what comes through is our similarity, our nearly unthinkable alignment in how we view matters, in ways both good and bad. The central frustration underneath every disagreement is that we both know how the other person would think and act if roles were reversed.

Which is why the good times are so great. We know how to make each other happy, and we’re constantly learning how to better be in each other’s presence when one or the other of us is in a bad place mentally. I’ve written quite openly (and often) about my struggles with bipolar, a disease that makes me want to hide away from everyone. I don’t want to hide away from Helen.

Which is all to say, I’m in a relationship. It’s a stable state of being, which is not common for me. It’s worth fighting for.

Puerta del Angel

All PackedOn Wednesday, Helen and I moved in to her newly purchased flat in a neighborhood called Puerta del Angel. This neighborhood, that is clearly on the precipice of gentrification (whatever that means in Spain), falls on the western side of the Manzanares “river”, across from the Palacio Real. Like my first apartment in Madrid, this barrio reflects the older generations that built it, but youthful energy is moving in.

This marks the first time since I was a teenager that I’ve moved to a new apartment because of a decision someone else made. Which is not to say I’m moving because of Helen; I’m moving with Helen because it’s where I want to be.


When I lived in Chicago, I had a coworker with whom I had many conversations about love, life, and all that other stuff. One day, he told me that he imagined I’d move to Europe someday and wind up with a European woman. (This guy also said he wanted to learn how to play saxophone to impress girls, so he probably isn’t clairvoyant.) I liked that sound of that back then. I like the sound of it now.

I don’t know what comes next, other than a few more days of unpacking boxes. My 10 Cities/10 Years may only ever exist as a collection of blog posts on this site. If so, let it stand as a testament to change. The young man writing angry atheistic screeds and making silly (and fruitless) attempts at internet infamy has grown up and moved on. I changed a lot over ten years of traveling, and I celebrated that change through my project.

But some things remain the same. I’m still an atheist, I’m still internet unfamous, and I’m still in Madrid.

None of those truths are changing soon. I’m all the better for it.

Helen (Variadas)

Happy anniversary, LB.

Six Months

Months have roared passed – September, October, November, December, January, February – and I have arrived at the sixth month mark. This moment has traditionally represented a pivotal moment, the halfway point to something new, the vantage point off a mountain’s peak from which I could see where I’ve been and where I was headed next.

The View from San Francisco

In this moment, though, I do not feel like I’m on higher ground.

It has been half a year since I moved to Madrid. I have no idea what point on the timeline that represents. At the very least, I expect (hope) to be here in Madrid through next September, which means this isn’t even my halfway point. It is possible that I will stay in Madrid another year or two, or maybe I’ll move to Valencia or some other Spanish city. My intention is to spend at least two years in this country, but my intentions are subject to whims and laws (moreso the former than the latter).

I don’t have any great desire to return to the United States – though, I miss New York City terribly, in ways both obvious yet also unexpected – but that’s about all I know. There’s no denying that America is my home, and I know I will be back there, someday. Just, not yet.

Six months in, I am adrift.

Estanque y Monumento

Of my time in Spain, three of those months are three of my favorites of the year, and the other three are my absolute least favorite. My apologies to T.S. Eliot, but December through February are, in fact, the cruelest months.

On this blog, I’ve discussed quite openly my mental health: I am Bipolar II (severe depression, hypomanic episodes) with seasonal affective disorder. There is a regularity to my cycles that is simultaneously calming and infuriating. To know that a prolonged period of mental desolation is inevitable, to know it but be unable to preempt or mitigate it, is, in a word, cruel.

We all have our medications. Mine is moving.

I travel because I am alive, and I am alive because I travel. To explore somewhere you’ve never been, to begin over again in a new home, that’s to allow oneself to feel both small and enormous: a lonely stranger, yet member of a nearly eight billion-strong club. I’ve been traveling long enough to know that new scenery isn’t a magic elixir for mental illness. It is, however, a reprieve. 

Crowds at Plaza Mayor

I talk about such matters on this blog because it’s something I so rarely see discussed in this arena. Travel blogs and Instagrams are all shimmering vistas and words of infinite optimism, inspirational quotes etched over mountain ranges; people proclaiming that they quit their jobs without looking back and they have never been happier. I suppose some of them could be telling the truth. I know some of them are full of shit.

This is a hard life. Sorry to break the illusion. I don’t aim to inspire.

To travel, to step out on the wing, is to feel lost and out of control far more often than you feel certain. The doubts, the anxiety, the depression: they are companions of a constancy far greater than any friend. They travel for free and are already unpacked before you arrive at your destination 

Like life itself, traveling is a solitary endeavor, so I’m thankful for the friends who stick around, and for those who allow themselves to be vulnerable and admit their own struggles. They make the road less lonely. It is not weakness to admit you feel weak. I’ll type that up in Helvetica and plaster that on a photo, for sale in the gift shop.

Los Portadores de la Antorcha (Alcanzando)

Six months down another road. It’s still true, I don’t know where this one leads. The more I think about my future, the harder it is to see an endgame. When I was 22, I had a picture of what my life would look like; I knew it was just a dream, but at least I could envision it. Now, all I can see are all the things might life will never be. The future is unwritten.

If the past is any indication, it doesn’t really matter. All I can do is hope that I don’t run out of a fuel before I run out of time.

Sunlit Palacio

What comes next

I’ve done unconventional things in my life. Generally dumb, maybe a few clever choices, but mostly, just odd. For instance, have I ever mentioned that time I moved to ten different cities over ten years? Oh, I have?

Well, in the midst of those ten years, I tried something else that many of you might not know about, especially if you only started reading this site in the last few years.

As my sixth year – Nashville, Tennessee – passed the halfway mark, I wanted to try something to shake-up the proceedings of a project that had started to have predictable beats. That far into the project, I was locked in to completing the whole endeavor, or die trying (sounds dramatic, but honestly, there were more than a few months where my next meal wasn’t guaranteed).

So, in order to liven things up and keep myself from getting too bored, I introduced a new gambit. I opted to put the power in readers’ hands: They voted on my next city.

I was prudent enough to know that giving the internet unrestricted options would wind up with me being sent to Bedford, Wyoming or some other desolate ink dot, so I gave voters options: Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Portland, OR; and Seattle, WA.

So Far
After one week of voting.

I didn’t have a lot of readers in those days (some things never change), so there wasn’t a deluge of votes, but there were enough to make it interesting. The voting lasted about two months, and though Seattle and Portland pulled ahead initially, it wound up being neck and neck, with Denver, Austin, and Denver duking it out for first place (Portland, to my surprise, fell far behind and was never much of a contender after the first couple weeks).

Lake Union Pana

In the end, as I’m sure you can deduce, Seattle won the vote, beating out Denver by one vote. Fortuitous that it did, as well, because my year in Seattle was one of the best of the entire project and the city remains among my favorites in all of the US. Conceivably, it’s possible I would have come to love Denver or Austin or Portland just as much; we’ll never know.

All these years later, I can admit, letting internet strangers vote on my next home does seem a bit out there, even more than 10×10. It was a period in my life where I had no preconceptions or directions for what would come next so I figured I’d let the winds decide.

I feel like I’m at a similar place in my life, now.

TowerA couple weeks ago, I was sitting at one of Madrid’s many spectacular cafés with three friends and I asked them that cliché question that everybody hates, but which I think is worth contemplating from time to time: What would your ideal life look like?

It’s something I keep asking myself because I’m not entirely certainly. In part, that’s because, as I age and pursue certain avenues, other pathways that I had previously contemplated are closing to me. Some people will say that you can still be anything you want at any age, citing some septuagenarian grandmother who went back to college or a celebrity who didn’t became famous until their 50s. Those people are morons. Don’t feed them.

Life is finite and if I had only one dream, it’s true, I could dedicate myself to it and in time I might achieve some level of success. But I don’t have one dream, I have many. Just like I don’t have one home, or one passion. I want to master every art form, I want to live in every city, I want to taste every whiskey.

I want to live on every continent. Yeah, Antarctica, too. And then I want to fly to Mars.

Sunset Ripple

When I answered my own question with my friends, I said that I didn’t care so much what I did for work so long as it allowed me to keep traveling. I wish I could be a renowned author (never going to happen) or a world-famous photographer (probably not going to happen), but those pursuits aren’t likely to change the course of my life.

I’ve gotten to an age where it would be damn near impossible to go back to the US and work my way up in a traditional career. That bridge is, if not burnt, then covered in gasoline and being occupied by a bunch of smokers.

I’m not sure any of it matters. I’ve never made much money in my life, always just skirting by. But skirt by I have, and I’m now living in my thirteenth city on my second continent. Somehow, I’m still going. So, I guess I’ll keep going until I can’t. That’s pretty much the point of life, verdad?

I don’t know where I’m going next, or when, but there are more destinations ahead, of that I’m confident. So, just for fun, as a bit of non-binding but informative polling, I’m putting the question to my readers again: For my next continent, where should I move?

❏ Australia
❏ South America 

Answer in the comments.


Take a Walk

This will be short today. My laptop which I bought when I was living in New Orleans six years ago (damn, that seems ages ago), is officially on its last legs, and could very well die before I even have a chance to



















Okay, it’s still alive, but not for much longer. I’m currently in the midst of shopping for a new laptop here in Spain which is not the easiest of processes since specific computer spec vocabulary is not exactly first level Spanish.

Electronics are also more expensive here in Spain than they would be in the States. As much as I’d love to be able to hold off, though, it’s just not going to happen. Without a computer, most of my income would disappear and I don’t think the gigalo industry is what it once was out here.

On top of that tech purchase, I’m expecting some hefty dental fees in my immediate future, and possibly some travel expenses. Needless to say, I’m in that old familiar place of stressing about money again.

This is my life. Something’s got to give.

Since the firsts days of 10×10, my go to method for dealing with stress, financial and otherwise, was to get outside and just walk until my feet hurt. I’ve worn through the heels of enough pair of shoes to know that I’ve probably matched Jesus in the number of miles I’ve trekked, first across America, and now Europe.

Madrid is an extremely walkable city, and a lot smaller than it seems upon initial impressions. Some days or nights, I pick a direction and just walk until I’ve listened to a full album or a couple Spanish podcasts. I’m not far from Retiro Park, so when I’ve got no other destinations in mind, I usually head there.

Fuente de la Alcachofa 3

Even on a cold day, you’ll always finds some people lounging about in Retiro, though when the sun is shining and the temperatures start to inch up above 14 C, that’s when the park comes to life.

Since I need to get out and find a laptop that a) functions at least as well as my six-year-old model yet b) doesn’t require selling a kidney, I think I’ll leave you all with some idyllic photos from one of my recent walks, and hopefully next week I’ll be back up to full speed.



Figuras de guerraEstanque Grande remeros 2

La VigilantePalacio de Cristal (Sunbeam)