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The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Touring, Mojitos, & Gypsies – Madrid in a Nutshell

By Colleen Bouey

“I'm way too tired to explain everything that happened today, but I should probably bring you up to speed in case the police decide to contact you. I'm safe and sound and totally fine, so don't worry but send me a message when you get this.”

In hindsight, I probably should have included a little more explanation in this email to my mom when I was halfway around the world.

On an afternoon in early July, I decided to check out a gay bar in Madrid called El Tigre, famous for its Mojitos and enormous tapas. Intent on getting the full experience, I ordered a Mojito, which turned out to be a drink fit for three people. Needless to say, I was a bit tipsy after consumption and feeling on top of the world. Being in such a fine frame of mind, I decided to head over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, home to some of the most astounding art from the 13th century to the late 20th century. In mid journey, I was approached by two young girls asking me to donate money and sign a petition for an organization for deaf and blind children. I thought, "Why not?", signed their petition and took out my wallet to give them a euro and a half in change.

As we walked our separate ways, I looked into my wallet and realized 40 euros in bills were missing. I chased the girls down and demanded they return my money. They instantly forgot how to speak English and professed they had never seen me before. During our argument, a Spanish woman approached and asked what the trouble was. I explained the situation and she scolded the girls and told them to give me my money and that the fake petitioning was illegal. The girls kept up their act and the woman called the police who arrived about 15-20 minutes later.

The police questioned the girls for about a half hour before bringing all of us to the local police station. I spoke with various police officers, all very sympathetic and helpful. I was then escorted to another police station where I filed an official police report. While I was on the phone with the translator, the police officer that had searched the girls entered the station and handed me 40 euros. I'm not sure where it came from or how they got it, but I was incredibly appreciative.

Feeling a lot better the next day (and more clearheaded), I explored a new area of Madrid. In the very center of the city, I discovered the older of the girls with a different partner, running the petition scam with a middle-aged couple. I approached the couple and asked if they spoke English. They said yes, I told them my story and advised them not to “donate” any money. The couple thanked me and began yelling at the girls. The girls were furious and started shouting at me, “¡¿Qué dices?! ¡¿Qué dices?!", which means, “What are you saying?! What are you saying?!” I answered and was promptly spat on. Contemplating spending another day in at a Madrid police station, I looked at the girl and said, “You are pathetic.” She looked furious, called me a bitch and left.

I believe that traveling changes people in ways they would not guess. This was a completely unexpected experience that I would never have gotten at home. It was unnecessary and inappropriate and left me feeling violated, angry and humiliated. Nonetheless, I feel very fortunate because I stood up for myself, helped other people and was very lucky to get my money back. It taught the small life lesson in the importance of letting things go.

An equally important life lesson: don’t drink three Mojitos in the middle of the afternoon!


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